Which Esks team will show up?

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

It's the biggest single game, in any pro sport, in this city this calendar year.

Look at it that way.

"If there's a letdown, then there's a problem,'' said head coach Danny Maciocia.

"We're playing the Saskatchewan Roughriders. There's a rivalry. There's a home playoff game at stake. If we don't play well, then there's a real problem here. With everybody.''

His football team hasn't won two in a row since Labour Day and that one was ugly. The Roughriders are the only team in the league the Eskimos haven't defeated this season. If the Eskimos win, for all practical purposes they may begin preparation to play host to the West semifinal. If not, they might want to look into hotel reservations for crossover playoff games in the East.

"One week we look like world beaters. The next week we look like we'd have trouble beating the local junior teams,'' Maciocia levelled at his pre-game presser yesterday.

'IT'S CHANGED FROM WEEK TO WEEK'

"It's changed from week to week with the team. When we beat the B.C. Lions here I thought we'd just shown ourselves as being in the top two teams in this league if not the top one. Then we go to Hamilton and we look like one of the bottom teams. The way we played in Toronto, I feel differently again.

"But this is no longer about looking back at what we've been this season. I don't care who is ahead of us or who is behind us. All I care about is the Edmonton Eskimos now. If we play to our ability and we play smart, I don't care if we play in Commonwealth Stadium, B.C. Place, Taylor Field or in the back alley out there, I'm not concerned with where we finish but how we finish. If there's a letdown, then there's a problem.''

Sean Fleming, who earlier this year had to check his birth certificate to make sure he hadn't been named Much Maligned, said in a way this is perfect for this football team in terms of where they've been this season and where they hope to be going.

"It's the way it should be. Big meaningful games at the end of the year. It's no longer like it used to be when you'd have easy games. We're playing Saskatchewan, B.C. and Calgary. Those are the teams we play in the playoffs.

"We know that we have as much talent as any team in this league. The problem this year has been in putting it together. We play B.C. and we shine. We play Hamilton and we stink. Edmonton fans have been wondering what team will show up and we can't blame them. But we're not at the stage of the season where we have nothing but big games and it's time to string solid games together.''

It's real simple, say most Eskimos.

"If we beat them, we're ahead of them to stay. Let's go out and play,'' says Malcolm Frank.

THERE'S BIG GAMES AND THEN ...

Signor Mobley says there are big games and then there are games like this one.

"We're past the big-game stage. We're in the huge-game stage. We're at the point of the season where you have to win. We have to play every week like we played B.C. here and like we played Toronto last week until the season is over and somebody tells us we can't play anymore. If we do that we're going to be playing for the hardware.''

Defence hasn't been the problem this year. Edmonton has the top-ranked defence in the league. But so often, they've settled for being good instead of great.

Now's the time be as good as you can be, says Joe Montford.

"Whatever Saskatchewan brings to this game, we've got to double it. We have to play our best game.

"We have the kind of people here who know how to play come playoff time. We have to take the attitude that it's come playoff time.''

The healthiest way to look at it is the way offensive lineman Bruce Beaton views going to Commonwealth Stadium this afternoon.

"It's going to be 18C, there's going to be 50,000 fans in the stands, thousands of them from Saskatchewan. It has massive playoff implications. It doesn't get any better than this. This is the kind of game football players love to play.''


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