Esks may be struggling, but they've won six of seven Labour Day games

Jason Tucker and the Eskimos will be hoping history repeats itself when they take on the Stampeders...

Jason Tucker and the Eskimos will be hoping history repeats itself when they take on the Stampeders today in the Labour Day Classic. (DARRYL DYCK, Sun file photo)

Terry Jones

, Last Updated: 3:50 AM ET

CALGARY -- It wouldn't be the first Labour Day game to swing a season. It also wouldn't be the first to result in a coach swinging.

"Our focus is to be the best team in the second half of the season. That's only going to happen if we start here,'' says much-maligned Edmonton Eskimos coach Danny Maciocia.

Seventeen days to game plan. And six wins in the last seven Labour Days.

Somewhere in there, there's hope for Edmonton. Then again, it's Labour Day.

"When I first came here, I remember Wally Buono telling me that there is something unusual about these games,'' said Maciocia. "I remember thinking, 'Ya, sure. It's just another game on the schedule.' But he was right. I don't think even last year's Grey Cup game can compare to some of these Labour Day games. And that atmosphere here for this game is unbelievable. You can't hear yourself think. It's unique.''

It doesn't make any sense that the Eskimos have won six of the last seven of these things. But this game seldom makes sense.

Kicker Sean Fleming, who will play in his 15th Labour Day Classic, was shocked to discover the six-of-seven stat. "Personally I've felt we've lost most of these, been blown out in a lot of them, then gone back home and won most of them on the Friday rematch and done very well here in the playoffs. Six of the last seven? I didn't know that. Obviously, I'm mistaken.''

Blame Higgins

Stampeder coach Tom Higgins, fired by the Eskimos two years ago, was asked if he could explain why Edmonton has won six of the last seven.

"Sure. I've been in Edmonton longer than I've been in Calgary,'' he joked.

He's 3-2 in the game. Maciocia is 1-0.

Stampeders' Jay McNeil, a veteran of 13 Labour Days, knows the score. "It's been frustrating. I hate losing this game again and again to those guys.''

It'll only be the fourth for quarterback Ricky Ray. But he gets it. "It's the one regular-season game which feels most like a playoff game. It's a big, big game.''

You can make the case that it has seldom been bigger for the Eskimos. They've had more than two weeks to contemplate the mess they made of the first half of the season and were certainly a study when they arrived here yesterday.

Ray, for one, wasn't in denial.

"The one thing I think we all realize is that we haven't been making the plays. In past years we've come in here for this game and we were the team making the plays. I think losing that game to Winnipeg on the last play of the game took more out of us than a lot of us wanted to admit. And then we lost another one on the last play in our last game in B.C. Those things cost you a lot of confidence. We're coming in here knowing we need to start making the plays.''

With 17 days to go back to the drawing board, will Maciocia show a new-look offence to the Stampeders, who showed a whole bunch of new wrinkles to the Montreal Alouettes last time out after having a break in their schedule?

Gadget plays not the answer

Apparently not. "There are certain plays you hang your hat on,'' he said. "You can't do it with gadget plays. We self-scouted ourselves to see where we were at but it came down to three plays and we could be 6-3.''

Not the answer most fans want to hear.

Regardless, the Stampeders are expecting to see things they haven't seen.

"They've had a lot of time to game plan. And there's a lot of pressure on them to turn their season around,'' says McNeil.

Coach Higgins says the Stampeders are ready for anything and everything.

"Anything they throw at us is not going to throw us for a loop.''

The Stamps say they're ready.

"They'll not only be playing to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in all those years but thinking about their jobs, too,'' said QB Henry Burris.

Nobody on the Eskimos mentions that.

Listen to 'Terry Jones At Large' weekdays at 8:07 a.m. on 790 CFCW.


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