MONTREAL -- There are no big games before Labour Day. But once in a while one comes along which sets itself apart from all the others in the lazy, crazy days of summer.
And this is the one.
There are dozens of story angles which make Edmonton Eskimos vs. Montreal Alouettes a special event, as it will be here Friday night.
There's Danny Maciocia returning to Montreal as a head coach. There's Terry Vaughn playing his first game against the team that got rid of him and his salary for younger, taller, cheaper, more team-oriented talent. There are several others, such as Davis Sanchez, William Loftus, Robert Brown and Darrel Crutchfield who switched uniforms in the off-season. But all that is incidental to the game itself.
These two teams opened the past two seasons against each other in Grey Cup rematches. It's not that. It's not us-versus-them except in the measuring-stick sense.
For both teams it's a game about finding out about themselves - the Eskimos to find out if they're a Grey Cup-calibre team again and the Alouettes to find out if they're a Grey Cup-calibre team anymore.
It's the top offence in the league versus a team which some think might have the best defence put together in this league in a long, long time.
It's the best offensive line in the league versus a defensive line which has 13 sacks in the first two games.
It's a Montreal team that never loses a game so early in the season coming off blowing a 23-point lead in the fourth quarter against Ottawa.
And it's an Edmonton team that beat Ottawa and Winnipeg for starters and has this one game against a top team as a litmus test before going back against Winnipeg, Ottawa and Hamilton in its next three.
"I've been here nine years and I don't remember ever being .500 before," said Als annual all-star offensive lineman Bryan Chiu after practice here yesterday.
Quarterback Anthony Calvillo said he's wrong about that.
"We were .500 once. We lost our last regular-season game in 2001 and ended up 9-9," he said.
That was the year they won their first four, won nine of their first 11 and then lost their last seven straight.
"This is my eighth year and I know I've never lost one this early," said two-time Most Outstanding Canadian Ben Cahoon.
"It seems like we always win our first four or five in a row."
Starting in 1997, the Als managed to break from the gate at 3-0, 3-0, 3-0, 5-0, 4-0, 8-0, 3-0 and 6-0.
"The positive spin is that maybe it's better to lose a game early. I'd much rather lose early than late," said Chiu, who has only one Grey Cup ring to show for all those years of winning early and losing late.
"Obviously we needed a wake-up call. This game is about answering it," said Cahoon. "For Edmonton, maybe they're looking at the game like a litmus test as you say, but we never look at a game like that. We're looking at it as we just lost a game and we have to respond to that. We don't try to size ourselves up against other teams."
Calvillo put it a different way.
"Whenever you lose a game, each person has to re-evaluate. Losing sucks. But it makes you re-evaluate."
Chiu is as interested to see how they do against the Edmonton defence as the Eskimost defence is to see how they do against the team that leads the league with more than 1,000 yards offence after only two games.
"In my opinion, they're one of the best defensive lines I've seen in this league. They do a lot of stunts and have a lot of different looks.
"They come after you with Joe Montford and Rashad Jeanty and that new guy, Cedric Scott, yet the all keep fresh. They are all really active guys."
Calvillo says there's a definite challenge there on defence.
"They have a different philosophy on defence. It's not the same defence Greg Marshall ran there. One thing we know already is that you don't want to get yourself in second and long against that defence."
Vaughn, who played his first game of the season in Ottawa and caught 11 passes for 160 yards, says "Edmonton's secondary is the best secondary we'll see this season."
Calvillo says he's more than aware of Edmonton's 13-sack total and isn't saying, 'Oh, come on, they came against Ottawa and Winnipeg.'
"It's going to be a task for us."