Empire strikes back!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

Rematch Of The Mismatch.

The Empire Strikes Back.

Revenge of the Nerds.

Return of the Living Dead.

A good promoter would have been working the theme for all it was worth this week.

Live. On the inside. The embarrassed Eskimos. Out to avenge a 46-10 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Come one. Come all.

What we're dealing with here, however, is something far less exciting.

"Sure, we want to go out there and beat them by 30. Sure we'd like to go out there and pay them back," said quarterback Ricky Ray of tonight's tilt against the team which took the shine off their Grey Cup. "But what we're really looking to do out there is to find our identity."

Identity Crisis.

Doesn't have the same sizzle.

Defending Grey Cup champions aren't often in search of their identity, especially Edmonton Eskimo ones. But that's basically what this game is all about for the team which has coughed and sputtered to a 2-2 start to the season and hasn't sold anybody on anything, one way or the other.

'A LOT OF NEW GUYS'

"We're learning to play with each other," said Ray, the Grey Cup MVP who is trying to lead Edmonton to a fourth consecutive Grey Cup game as the Eskimos' quarterback.

"We have a lot of new guys again this year. We're still working on the trust factor. It takes some games. Everybody has to trust the job the other guy is going to do and not go out there worrying about doing his job for him. That's a big part of football.

"The great thing here is that we always have a good locker- room. The veterans show the new guys the way it is. On a lot of teams after a bad loss like we had in Winnipeg, there would have been a lot of finger-pointing. We didn't have a lot of that."

To Ray, it all starts with not turning the ball over.

"Look at our two losses. We had seven turnovers against Calgary and six against Winnipeg. You can't win games doing that.

"We need to get positives going here. In Winnipeg we were awful. Part of it is that every time something went our way it was followed by a negative."

There are a lot of pieces to a football team. And you need enough of them to be positives for everybody to build confidence in the team as a whole.

You need to have good games against good teams. And that, says Ed Hervey, is what this game is about more than any revenge plot anybody wants to build.

"This is a game to find out about ourselves, not about revenge," said Hervey.

"The West is too close this year to worry about revenge.

"You want to install belief that you are one of the best teams in the league," he says, and adds there are enough guys around here who found out after winning the title in 2003 that flashing their Grey Cup rings around didn't put a win in the standings. "You can never be the same team you were the year before. We have to find the identity of the team we're going to be this year."

Head coach Danny Maciocia says that's it, exactly.

"I'm big on identity. Last year we had 19 new guys and I promised myself not to go through that again and we've got at least 10 again.

"After the first three weeks, if you asked me and if I could gauge our football team and I was honest with you, I would have said 'no.'

"In the last couple of weeks I've started to feel good. They're starting to interact and find out what the CFL means and what it means to be an Eskimo. You can talk about it, but they have to live it.

CONSISTENCY MISSING

"We don't want to be one of those roller coaster type teams where one week you are pretty good and one week you're not as good and then you're back up there and down again ...

"I mean, we are looking at some consistency here. I can honestly say the last two weeks we've looked pretty good on the practice field and it seems like people are coming together and they are clearly buying into what we are trying to do."

So the 46-10 loss might have been a good thing?

"I don't know what benefit losing 46-10 can be. I don't see any benefit in having your back ends handed to you like we had them handed to us in Winnipeg."


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