CALGARY - When the Calgary Stampeders loaded up their gear for Saturday’s bus-ride north on the QEII Highway, they likely left the bulletin board back home.
The Edmonton Eskimos aren’t providing any material.
“We don’t like them and they don’t like us. That’s not a secret, so let’s not kid ourselves,” Stamps defensive tackle DeVone Claybrooks said. “But they’re a good football team. They play well. They’re playing great defence. They’ve got a good offence. They’ve got great weapons. And vice versa. We’re kind of like mirror images of each other.
“We’re both good football teams. That’s a true statement. But it’s going to be a battle tomorrow and there’s not going to be any friendly handshakes and smiles in the beginning.”
Sunday’s West Division semifinal at Commonwealth Stadium (2:30 p.m., TSN, QR77) marks the latest instalment of the CFL’s Battle of Alberta.
What it hasn’t been is a war of words.
Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed has been almost over-the-top in his praise for the Stamps this week, putting in an early claim on the ‘underdog’ label and providing the impression the Green & Gold are happy with what they’ve accomplished just by earning the opportunity to host a home playoff game for the first time since 2004.
During Saturday’s pre-game press conference, the Eskimos’ first-year sideline boss served up a few more compliments. No surprise, really, from a guy who has repeatedly called the Stamps a “very, very good football team.”
A few hours later, Stamps head coach John Hufnagel shrugged off a suggestion his squad could actually be an underdog in the semifinal round.
So there you go, Kavis. If you want the underdog label, it’s all yours, even if the Western Canada Lottery Corporation line indicates the Eskimos are 1.5-point favourites for Sunday’s showdown.
“When you’re a rookie coach and you’ve got a young team with zero playoff experience, you’ve got to have some motivation or give them something to cling to,” Claybrooks said. “Different people find different things to try to motivate them. Theirs is ‘Oh, we’re the underdogs. They’re the hottest team in the league. Blah, blah, blah. Et cetera, et cetera.’
“At the end of the day, between those white lines, none of it matters. What Vegas thinks? What you guys think? Doesn’t matter.”
There’s something that both sides can agree on.
You’ll likely find the odds for Sunday’s West Division semifinal posted on the same bulletin board as all that trash-talk. In other words, if you’re looking for conflict, wait until kickoff.
“The whole underdog angle is overplayed. It’s overused. It’s so cliched,” Stamps running back Jon Cornish said.
“One team is going home and the other is moving on, so you talk with your pads,” agreed Eskimos linebacker Rod Davis. “Once the ball is snapped, the talk goes out the door. The underdog? The overdog? It doesn’t matter. Just line up and play ball.”