Esks need to own home fieldEsks won eight straight in friendly confines in last year's Grey Cup run
By TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun
The slogan was so nice the Edmonton Eskimos decided to use it twice.
Defend the Turf.
Last year it was just a slogan. This year it could become a storyline.
For openers, if the Eskimos ever needed to defend the green, green grass of home, it's Saturday against the B.C. Lions.
"It's paramount," says coach Tom Higgins.
LOST 2003 HOME OPENER
The Eskimos, who lost their home opener to Montreal last year and then ran the table at home, lost their first game to the Alouettes Saturday in Montreal. The next two Eskimo games are on the road.
You should know that the Eskimos, who are 167-56-1 in Commonwealth Stadium, are 20-5 when it comes to home openers in the big park. Interestingly, British Columbia is the only team to have defeated Edmonton in two of those home openers.
But there's a bigger picture here.
Winning eight straight regular-season games at home last year sends the Eskimos into this season with a chance to make a real run.
"You want to keep it going," says Higgins.
The team record for consecutive wins is 17, set from late 1954 to early 1956 as Edmonton won three Grey Cups in a row with Jackie Parker and the gang.
They've also done 16 straight, 11 straight, 10 straight and nine straight in previous runs.
BUONO MIGHT WANT TO STOP IT
You get the idea. They've got something going here. Something B.C. Lions coach Wally Buono might be interested in stopping right here and right now.
If the B.C. Lions are going to be battling the Eskimos for the top rung in the West over the next few seasons, one thing Buono doesn't want is for Edmonton to get going into double digits in consecutive wins at home.
The CFL record for longest home unbeaten streak, at 27 straight, belongs to the Buono-coached Calgary Stampeders, from Sept. 20, 1992 to Aug. 18, 1995. When it comes to that one, the Eskimos haven't even managed to get started yet.
The B.C. coach and GM, who lost a home opener last week to the Tiger-Cats, is a big believer in owning your own home.
"Honestly, when all is said and done, you have to win 80% to 90% of your games at home if you're going to go to Grey Cup. I don't know why that's the case. It should be the same at home as on the road."
Buono says he isn't buying into the idea that the Eskimos build teams to play on the grass field in Commonwealth Stadium.
"They're a team built on speed. Grass is slow," he says.
Buono says a lot of it is in the head.
"A lot of teams used to come to McMahon Stadium thinking they were likely to lose before they got there. There is a psychological thing at play in a lot of places. For years, everybody has said it's hard to win in Taylor Field in Regina. That's what you want. You want to have a superior attitude in your ball-park."
As Buono says, history proves that a team which owns its own home is going to give itself a chance to succeed no matter how many potholes there are on the road.
"Our goal last year was to get it back to where Commonwealth Stadium wasn't viewed as a friendly place," said Tim Prinsen of the team which lost four regular-season games and the Grey Cup game at home the year before.
"Obviously you want to establish yourself at home. But every year is a new year. We proved to be tough to beat at home last year but that's not going to win us games at home this year. We have to go out and establish that all over again this year. We have to go out there and get our new players baptised."
Prinsen says it's more than making life miserable for the visitors, something that on the right weather days the grass itself can do for them.
"It's fun to play at home for us. The fans are great. We have the biggest crowds in the league. There's excitement in the air. Newcomers to this team sense it right away. Last year is the way you want it to be every year. But every year you have to go out and establish home field advantage."
It's been a major focus on returning the Eskimos to becoming a championship team.
"We've put a lot of emphasis on re-establishing that it's tough to beat the Eskimos at home," said Higgins.
In the case of this one, with Higgins or Buono going to leave here with a 0-2 start to the season, they need to win it whether it's at home, on the road or on Mars.