Trade turns tide

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:36 AM ET

Hughie Campbell should be arrested.

The Edmonton Eskimos president and/or dictator just keeps picking the pockets of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

And if the Eskies win the Grey Cup today, they should send a percentage of their winnings to the Tabbies.

The Eskimos were sputtering along until they somehow convinced Hamilton to surrender both tailback Troy Davis and offensive lineman Dan Comiskey just before the trade deadline for virtually nothing. The 'Cats got wide receiver Brock Ralph, who becomes a free agent this winter, defensive back Tay Cody, who could not crack the Eskimo secondary, and a first-round draft pick. Rubbing salt into this embarrassing wound was the fact that Edmonton traded Comiskey to Hamilton to acquire defensive end Joe Montford last April.

Suddenly, the Esks had a much-needed running attack and better protection for quarterbacks Ricky Ray and Jason Maas.

Mind you, the Eskies entered the season on a high because Ray had returned from a failed sojourn to the NFL, managed to keep wide receiver Ed Hervey and add a few other pieces to their perennial playoff puzzle, like cornerback Davis Sanchez, for rookie head coach Danny Maciocia.

But they did not exactly take the CFL by storm.

Through most of the year, the Eskies had virtually no running game and the quarterbacks were getting hit far too often. Then, veteran placekicker Sean Fleming was actually benched for his poor play, despite the fact that he had reportedly offered to take a pay cut so that the Eskimos could keep Hervey, who was about to sign with Ottawa as a free agent.

BLOCKBUSTER MOVE

Despite that poor protection, Ray actually completed 479 of 715 passes to break Doug Flutie's record for most completions in one season and the defence rounded into one of the best in the CFL (only Toronto surrendered fewer points overall). But, until the blockbuster was made, there always seemed to be some intangible or two missing.

Edmonton finished the season in third place with an 11-7 record due to a loss to the Stampeders in the last regular-season game, meaning that Calgary would host the West Division semifinal.

No third-place Edmonton team had ever advanced to the Grey Cup, so their prospects were discouraging. But that's when Maas became a hero, pulling the semifinal out of the bag when he replaced Ray at the controls. Fleming also returned to form, booting six field goals.

Maas then performed the same miracle when he replaced Ray in the West Final versus the Lions in their own den, B.C. Place.

Now, they will play the Montreal Alouettes in the Grey Cup.

"That's life," Fleming told the Edmonton Journal. "You're going to have your ups and downs. The important thing is that the people in the locker-room believe, despite all the negative stuff when things aren't going well.

"You have to be able to handle the criticism and you can handle it if you know what you're doing is right or that eventually things will turn around. That's what's satisfying, the locker-room has never been torn apart despite all the pressure from the outside. And the pressure is justified when things aren't going well."

But it was the trade that turned their fortunes around. And there is another one coming that will send Maas to Hamilton for quarterback Danny McManus, offensive lineman Tim Bakker and a first-round draft pick. That will mean that Edmonton will have acquired McManus, Montford, Davis, Bakker and Comiskey for Maas, Ralph and Cody. And the Eskimos will then be well on their way to the 2006 Grey Cup in Winnipeg.


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