Hold 'em or fold 'em

Edmonton Eskimos coach Danny Maciocia laughs hysterically as he chats with players during practice...

Edmonton Eskimos coach Danny Maciocia laughs hysterically as he chats with players during practice at Commonwealth Stadium Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006. (Edmonton Sun/Brendon Dlouhy)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:17 AM ET

There's a first for everything.

In 34 years on the beat (I started covering this team the year they started the 34-year streak of making the playoffs), I've never heard an Edmonton Eskimo coach publicly plead with his players to play with pride before.

I certainly never heard one have to ask that on the eve of a Labour Day Rematch.

That's what Danny Maciocia did yesterday.

"It's about pride to me. I'm hoping it's a question of pride. It's more about pride than excitement and cranking it up for our Labour Day (rematch) game.

"It's about taking the field and being proud. It's about getting after them and playing physical. At this point, make it personal. At this point, it's about pride."

There have been 44 Labour Day Classics in Calgary and this is only the 17th Labour Day Rematch on the following Friday.

Usually, the Eskimos -- who have an 11-5 record in the do-over game of the double dip -- have had more built into this one than they do this year.

RIVALRY HAS NFL FLAVOUR

The Labour Day Classic in Calgary has always been the one CFL game which most resembles a big U.S. college rivalry game. The difference between the two is that the Labour Day Rematch in Commonwealth Stadium has usually been the equivalent of an NFL rivalry game.

The largest regular season crowd in CFL history, 62,444 attended this game in 2003. The second largest, 61,481, filled the joint the year before. Other attendance figures for the game have been 57,843, 57,444, 54,324 ...

On most years, the Eskimos could talk about coming back here to the largest crowd of the year fuelling their fire.

It still might work out that way. It'll still likely be well over 40,000.

But with the Eskimos making a mess of it Monday in Calgary and coming into this game with a 3-7 record, six points out of a playoff position, there has never been a wet blanket like this thrown over this game. The Eskimos also chose this year to move the back-to-school promotion to the Saturday afternoon game against Toronto in October, so they can't top off the crowd with kids.

BIGGEST CROWD

It'll still probably be the largest crowd of the season for the entire league. And it's still the regular season game to get dialed up for ,says quarterback Ricky Ray.

"The CFL has something really special with these Labour Day games.

"It's a thrill to go down to that scene in Calgary and then come back here to the even bigger crowds in this stadium for the Friday game."

Ray, whose first challenge is to survive it behind the "Look Out!" blocks by his offensive line, says maybe what this team needs is a game which transcends the other home games.

"The hardest thing when you are on a losing team is having fun. We are addicted, as athletes, to winning.

"You get to this game and, well, this is the biggest regular season game of the year and the one thing that it has always had built in for the Eskimos is that if you lose in Calgary, you can get 'em back at home."

One thing that has happened, partially because of the Labour Day home-and-home doubleheader, you may have noticed, is that the focus has turned from the coaches to the players. Maciocia has stopped whining about the misfortunes which have befallen him this season and started to challenge the players.

"We have to learn how to tackle, pass protect and handle the football. We should have had these things resolved a long time ago. You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself," he said.

He used his pre-game press conference to continue that tack and attack.

"A challenge has been issued to our offensive line. We have the best quarterback and the toughest quarterback in the league. Our offensive line needs to hold up for him," he said.

CHALLENGE ISSUED

He challenged the defence "to play as well as we think we can play" and do it without taking penalties.

Then he went where no Eskimo coach had gone before and played the pride card.

At home, for the biggest game of the regular season, will they jump all over that card, or will they fold?

The stakes are the season.


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