Opener will set the tone

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

Once upon a time, but not a long, long time ago, it was like the Edmonton Eskimos drew up the league schedule every year.

It was like Norm Kimball and then Hugh Campbell sat down before every season and asked themselves "O.K. Which two teams have made the most changes? Which two clubs look like they're going to be a whole lot easier to beat early than late?"

And then they scheduled each of them to play Edmonton twice in the first five games.

Now the Eskimos are one of those teams they used to play early and often.

Lots of changes. Going to be easier to beat early than late.

For 15 consecutive seasons - 1985 to 1998 - the Eskimos won every single, solitary season opening game, home or away.

That's a helluva stat. Edmonton also won 10 out of 12 openers in the previous seasons. That's 25 of 27.

TIMES CHANGE

Times change. They've lost six of the last eight including a loss last year.

You could make a case that of all the lid-lifters in Eskimos history, winning this one could go further than just about any of the previous 58 openers.

It's not just the 20 new players and 12 new starters or even having ended the record streak of 34 consecutive years in the playoffs. It's that three of their next four are on the road.

"Any time you start a season with this many changes, a 'W' in the first game would be huge," said head coach Danny Maciocia.

Everybody in the league wants to win the first one getting out of the gate. Everybody wants to get off to a good trip.

But in this case, with a terrific good mood and attitude within the group going into the season, it's not just about the two points.

This is as much about the town as the team and the bounce-back effect of the town on the team.

"What it would do is prevent all that doomsday stuff," says 15-year veteran Sean Fleming.

"If we win the first game, all the nay-sayers aren't going to be coming out saying 'Here we go again.' "

DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

Quarterback Ricky Ray sees it from a different perspective.

"Right now, there's definitely a feeling of excitement with this team. Everybody is really geared up to see how we stack up with everybody else and see what our identity is going to be.

"Confidence plays such a big part in being a professional athlete that it would really go a long way if we played well and won the first game and had that to build on considering all the changes and all those games on the road coming up.

"Last year it was like we played catch-up all year long. It took a heavy toll on this team. Coming off last year, it would help to get off to a good start at home."

The Eskimos, historically, have made Commonwealth Stadium a place teams hated to visit. Last year that wasn't the case. Four teams came here and won here, including the Bombers on Milt Stegall Night where they did everything but present him with a new car.

"In pro sports, you have to take advantage of your home games. It's tough to win on the road. If you win at home, it sets you up," said Ray.

"We'd always been a good home team until last year. We'd lose one or two at home. We didn't play very well at home last year. And we were terrible on the road."

Maciocia started to talk about that at his pre-game press conference and then stopped himself.

"Actually, the less talk about history and all that stuff the better. Like I said before, a lot of these guys don't know where Edmonton is on the map yet. The don't know any better about all the history. They don't know about all the pressure that goes with it. I think they're better off not knowing for a while and just go out there and fly around with a lot of enthusiasm."

Sorry about that, coach. But unless you get them commuting from Calgary ...


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