Field of nightmares

Rod McClendon and his Edmonton Eskimos teammates were busy yesterday getting ready to face the...

Rod McClendon and his Edmonton Eskimos teammates were busy yesterday getting ready to face the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina on Sunday. The teams are tied for second place in the CFL's West Division. (Edmonton Sun/Preston Brownschlaigle)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

They returned to work yesterday, the Edmonton Eskimos, hoping they have returned to being the Evil Empire again.

Apparently that's what they are being called this week in Saskatchewan.

Evil Empire?

That's fair.

You can understand it from the perspective of the long-suffering stubble-jumpers who have only witnessed one home playoff game (1988) in the last 28 seasons.

From the point of view of a Saskatchewan fan, there are only three things in life you can count on - death, taxes and the Edmonton Eskimos finishing ahead of the Roughriders.

So much is made of the Eskimos streak which would go to 33 consecutive years in the playoffs with a win Sunday. In Edmonton you only see one side of it. Saskatchewan is the flip side.

One hosting of a playoff game in 28 years?

Even that doesn't tell the whole story.

23RD HOME PLAYOFF GAME

Win Sunday and it will be the Eskimos' 23rd home playoff game since the Roughriders last finished ahead of the Eskimos in the standings.

That was 1976. That was the last time Saskatchewan won a home playoff game. Ironically it was against the Eskimos.

That's what sets this one up as an extraordinary game in CFL history. It's the lovable underdogs, Canada's Team, with a chance to finally play host to another one on Taylor Field. But they have to beat the Damn Eskimos to do it.

Understand that this is very much the Canadian equivalent of the Boston Red Sox vs. the Damn Yankees.

"Evil Empire? That's Star Wars isn't it? I don't watch Star Wars," said Higgins, who also doesn't watch The Simpsons or he'd know where his nickname 'Ned Flanders' comes from. He doesn't get a lot of things, Tom Higgins. But he gets this game.

"This game has really interesting dynamics," says Higgins. "People who don't know the importance of this game have been sleeping through the season. It's huge."

Apparently they are also calling it 'The Game of the Century' over in Saskatchewan. One assumes they mean this century.

Higgins says he understands the view of the Eskimos from the outside looking in.

"Quite a few of our players weren't born yet," he said of the year the 32-year playoff streak began. True. And quite a few Saskatchewan players weren't born yet the last time the Roughriders finished ahead of the Eskimos in the standings either.

"It's an interesting storyline when it comes to pressure," said Higgins.

"In a way it's very similar. I guess you could say history is on our side. But a player can't look over his shoulder and see history standing there."

Besides, is history really there?

It's Taylor Field. The Eskimos have always hated Taylor Field. Bad things happen to them there. They not only lose, they also tend to lose people.

The Eskimos have a 6-15 record in the joint dating back to 1987, including their last three games.

"We love Taylor Field," said Higgins, working hard as head spin doctor this get-back-to-work day.

"We won the Grey Cup there last year. We have a great memory from Taylor Field."

PLAYERS HAVE THEIR THOUGHTS

The players have their own thoughts.

"They play extremely well there," says Ed Hervey. "They play as well in Taylor Field as we play in Commonwealth Stadium."

Both teams are 8-8 going into the game. Both are 6-2 at home. That makes it a 6-2 home team vs. a 2-6 away team.

"It's one thing to beat Montreal in Taylor Field and another thing to beat Saskatchewan in there. They're a different breed in Saskatchewan. They affect the game.

"This game has so much at stake. It's huge for both teams. It's important to get their fans out of the game early. If things get bad, they can snowball in Saskatchewan and get extremely bad."

Jason Maas has quarterbacked the team to one win in Regina. He also got hurt there two years ago, bringing on Ricky Ray for the next two seasons.

"It's probably going to be cold, although not as cold as last year at the Grey Cup game. But we're a cold-weather team. We know what it's like to be cold," said Maas.

"The wind is always blowing in Saskatchewan. You go in there expecting to have the wind for two quarters and not have it for the other two quarters."

The two teams took bumpy roads to get to this game.

The Roughriders have won four straight. Both teams scored their last win over the Montreal Alouettes, a team which was 12-1 before they came West.

Maas says he's pumped to play this one.

"I'm glad everyone else is excited," he said. "We're excited. I'm more excited than any game we've played this year. We've had a lot of big games this year, but this is the biggest."

With games like this one, who needs hockey season?


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