A shot at redemption

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:36 AM ET

It's taken from one long weekend to the next, from the Labour Day weekend to the Thanksgiving Day weekend, to do it.

But what the Eskimos have done here is give themselves a second chance at following through like they failed to do coming out of Labour Day in Calgary.

The two most impressive football games Edmonton has played this year were on Labour Day in McMahon Stadium and this past weekend in B.C Place.

The Eskimos dominated the Stampeders that day in Calgary. They looked, that afternoon, like they were the real deal. TSN moved them up to No. 1 in their rankings and in the City of Champions, where 34 consecutive years of making the playoffs were followed by two straight seasons on the outside looking in, there was a lot of loose talk about getting back to the Grey Cup and becoming a title town again.

The Eskimos proceeded, of course, to let it all go to their heads and dived directly into the toilet, losing three of the next four and looking lousy in the one they won.

But on Thanksgiving weekend in Vancouver, while most Edmonton sports fans were focused on the opening of the Oilers NHL season, the Eskimos came close to duplicating their Labour Day performance to beat the B.C Lions.

"You don't get second chances very often, but we've built ourselves back up to give ourselves a second chance," said offensive co-ordinator Rick Worman.

MATURED

"We have a lot of young players here who didn't handle our first chance at it very well. Let's hope we've matured throughout this process and can now take advantage.

"Hopefully, we've learned from what happened. B.C. is going to come in here snorting, just like the Stampeders did coming back here to play the next one.

"It slipped through our hands the first time. Hopefully we won't let it happen the second chance."

Head coach Danny Maciocia puts it another way.

"We didn't do it after Labour Day. We proved to ourselves down in Calgary that we have the ability to play at such a level. But that was the first time around for a lot of guys in this group. Hopefully they learned a lot and will be better prepared now that they've given themselves a chance to have a second time around."

This time, nobody is talking Grey Cup or ranking the Eskimos No. 1. But with Calgary completing the Thanksgiving weekend with a 42-5 win over Saskatchewan yesterday to step out alone in first place, with the Roughriders, Lions and Eskimos all two points back in a three-way tie for second, it's all there for the Eskimos again.

With nobody seeming to take much notice, the Eskimos have managed to put together the best record in games within the division. They're 5-3 against the West, with Calgary at 5-4, Saskatchewan at 4-5 and B.C at 3-5.

The Eskimos, who officially clinched their playoff spot this weekend, have postioned themselves to win the season series against all three Western teams.

They've already got the higher spot in the standings if they finish tied with Calgary, and would do the same with B.C. if they defeat the Lions here Friday night. Same with Saskatchewan, if they beat the Roughriders the following weekend in Regina.

"I don't think that's even managed to get inside most of these guys heads yet," said official team temperature-taker Kamau Peterson, who ensured his second straight 1,000-yard receiving season and a chance to play in his first playoff game since his rookie year in 2001.

UNDERSTAND

"But we've put ourselves back in position to give ourselves a chance to prove we're whatever kind of team we want to be. I think we understand our capabilities more than we did after Labour Day. It's one thing to have people tell you you're a good team, but you have to live it and do it again and again. We've put ourselves back in position to live it and do it."

First things first, says quarterback Ricky Ray.

"We haven't won back-to-back games yet this year," he said of splitting with Toronto, Calgary, B.C. and Winnipeg.

But the QB, who was banged up and hurting coming out of Labour Day and is much healthier now, is one Eskimo who has thought about winning the season series against all three teams.

"That would be huge," he said. "You have to understand how important that would be, not only in what position we'd finish in the standings, but to have the confidence that it would give us going into the playoffs. We're back in position to go and do it. It's all in front of us again."

Maciocia bottom-lines it.

"If we can keep this up for the next little while, I'll be very happy with where we're headed," said the guy who won the Grey Cup in his rookie year as the Eskimos head coach but has never coached them in a playoff game in Commonwealth Stadium, where they're 6-1 this season.

That's where they'd be headed.\ CK WORMAN


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