Don't look back!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:18 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Only once before, way back 55 years ago, before political correctness, back when sportswriters called them the Esquimaux and the blubber-eaters, did Edmonton ever finish third and get to the Western final.

Never in the 57-year history of the CFL's flagship franchise have the Eskimos ever come from third place to get to the Grey Cup game. Nine times they've tried. Nine times they've failed. But you can make a case that this team is uniquely qualified to turn the trick. They are just schizophrenic enough, bipolar enough, and manic depressive enough to do it.

"I don't know what it is,'' said Bruce Beaton. "But we've had a bizarre sort of season. We've played better in games as underdogs this year than when we were favourites. At times we've looked like a first-place team and then ended up in the doghouse as underachievers.

"But we've been pretty good at getting out of the doghouse. We come out of the doghouse really good. We're not out yet. But we've put ourselves back in the position to get out.''

Actually, says Joe Montford, the whole Western Conference has been schizo.

"We've been pretty good about digging ourselves a hole but we've never let them throw dirt on us.''

Ricky Ray is coming out of the doghouse for this game. Sean Fleming resided there before him.

"The thing that's been pretty impressive as individuals and as a team is we've always been able to bounce back,'' said Ray. "We believe in ourselves and in each other.''

STRANGE SEASON

Fleming, who has been an Eskimo longer than anybody else here, says it's been a strange season to get to this game.

"We're 11-7 and won the semifinal and we're one win from the Grey Cup.

"We can draw on a lot of things from this season. The negative things have certainly strengthened us.''

It's not often the Eskimos - a team which has won 21 Western finals and a dozen Grey Cups, a team which has a pro sports record of 34 consecutive seasons in the playoffs - finds itself in a position to do something which has never happened in the storied history of the CFL's flagship franchise.

"This team doesn't often finish third,'' said CEO Hugh Campbell.

"I think only four times, in all the years I've been here, we haven't had a home playoff game. This is only the second time in all the years in which I've been involved that we've had a playoff game outside of Alberta. The only other time was here in 1987,'' he said of the year the Eskimos beat the Lions in this game and went on to beat the Toronto Argos in arguably the greatest Grey Cup game ever played.

"With all the changes and the changing of head coach, it really has been a bizarre season,'' said Campbell of 26 players who hadn't been here the year before playing at least one game this season under rookie head coach Danny Maciocia.

"We have been sort of schizophrenic.

"I think that's a fair statement. We've kind of progressed, regressed and progressed. But I'm happy with where we are going into the last two games of the season.''

Only four third-place teams in CFL history have gone on to win the Grey Cup. The Lions won the last two of them in 2000 and in 1994. Saskatchewan did it in 1989. The Montreal Alouettes did it in 1970.

'WE'LL STEP UP'

"We finished third, but if we'd won our last game, we would have finished first. How many times has that happened?'' said Kelly Wiltshire. "History is great. It's always great to be in a position to do something which hasn't been done. Hopefully, we'll step up and do it.''

Like that team in 1950, this team actually finished tied for second but ended up third because of the record between the two teams involved in the tie. In 1950 the Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders ended up at 7-7 and the Eskimos won the semifinal. This year the Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders finished tied at 11-7 and the Eskimos won the semi.

"There is something about this team,'' said rookie head coach Maciocia. "The bigger the game is and the more our backs are to the wall, the better this team seems to play.''

Will that be the case today? I'm wagering it will. Eskimos by three.


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