First-time Battlers

Eskimos' linebacker A.J. Gass will play in Monday's Labour Day Classic against the rival...

Eskimos' linebacker A.J. Gass will play in Monday's Labour Day Classic against the rival Stampeders. (Sun Media photo/Perry Mah)

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

It may be a Labour Day record for virgins.

Eighteen Eskimos. Eighteen Stampeders.

A total of 36 players are making their maiden voyage into the ultimate regular season experience in the CFL.

Three dozen guys.

Haven't been there. Haven't done that. Haven't bought the t-shirt.

Which probably goes a long way toward explaining why for the first time in 45 editions of the Classic the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos go into this game both with losing records and tied for last place in the division.

"You'd like to believe that your rookies will handle it better than their rookies," said Calgary coach Tom Higgins.

Higgins said he tells them it's Michigan-Michigan State, Oregon-Oregon State, North Carolina-North Carolina State.

"I won a Grey Cup coaching in Edmonton and somebody came up to me at the end of the season and said, 'Yeah, but you still didn't win Labour Day.' "

Maciocia is taking the exact opposite approach going into this one.

"The less they know the better off they are. The less they know the better off we are."

Veteran offensive lineman Dan Comiskey, who returns to the lineup for the game, agrees with his head coach.

"There's really no way to explain this game. You have to experience it."

Indeed, said Eskimos' kicker Sean Fleming who will be playing in his 15th and, quite likely, final Labour Day game.

"I don't think you can really describe it. There's so much energy involved in the whole week, from all the hype going into this game and the return match Friday in Edmonton."

Maciocia says he isn't talking to his first-timers about any of it, he's talking to his veterans.

"It's up to the veterans to be the examples when it gets a little bit interesting out there. There can be a lot of extracurricular activities in that game against Calgary in Edmonton. They experienced what happened to A.J. Gass. They all understand they don't want to get caught up in that fiasco again and have two players ejected from the game. We need everybody," said Maciocia.

"We were talking about that on the bus down here. It'll come down to who shows the best example for the guys who haven't played in this game before," said Rahim Abdullah, who first game to this game as an Eskimo, played two as a Stampeder and is about to play his fourth in green and gold.

Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris said he tells the Calgary first-timers that the key is to control your emotions.

"Then I tell them when the jets fly over just before the game and the atmosphere is so amazing, it's almost impossible to control your emotion," said Burris.

"(I tell them) that before the game starts you'll have butterflies and your emotion will be running away.

"I tell them it's such an exciting festival atmosphere taking place , about how much stuff this game comes with and how it's always a beautiful day on Labour Day," he said, stopping short of saying what Wally Buono always used to say, that it was the one day you could "smell football in the air."

Eskimos linebacker A.J.Gass - who won his helmet-throwing hearing from the Calgary-Edmonton game in Commonwealth Stadium last month - said it early in the week and said it again yesterday.

"Take your college rivalry game and times it by 100," he said.

Jay McNeil, who will be playing in his 13th consecutive Labour Day game, said Gass exaggerates.

"If they come from the States, I tell them to think of their homecoming game in college except turn it up times 10," said McNeil.

Veteran Jeff Pilon, the guy who allegedly grabbed Gass by the private parts to inspire the helmet-tossing scenario, is in his eighth Labour Day game.

"I told them if you thought our 34-32 win up there with everything that was involved in that game was something, this one is even more intense," Pilon said.

"I tell them that the emotion is always higher in this game than any other game."

Higgins says he knows the focus will very much be on the Labour Day virgins today.

"After this game there are going to be a lot of storylines about which first-timers did well with it and which players did not."


Videos

Photos