Bookies like Bombers

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:28 AM ET

The Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers have spent the last few days extolling their virtues like a couple of political entities on the election trail.

Both teams have had spin doctors working hard to make a case for their worthiness all week.

The early returns are in.

Winnipeg has been declared the official favourite for the Eastern Conference semifinal Saturday in Winnipeg.

The Eskimos may be a 10-8 team from the tougher division going against an 8-10 team which managed to win only three games against teams not named Argos or Tiger-Cats.

Edmonton may have Ricky Ray at quarterback, who has taken his team to the Grey Cup every year he's been in the playoffs.

The Green and Gold may have Danny Maciocia, who has never lost a post-season game, as head coach, and they may have defeated everybody in the league at least once this year.

But that doesn't do it for the bookmakers.

The bookies have followed thegreek.com, which set the early line Monday, making the Blue Bombers 2.5 point favourites, matching the 2.5 line yesterday.

INTRIGUING

The bowmans.com betting site followed up with the same odds and also declared the Bombers -140 and the Eskimos +120, which means if you bet Winnipeg, you'd have to put up $140 to make a profit of $100 while if you bet $100 on Edmonton you'd profit by $120.

The most intriguing odds are Bowman's +1,800 on the Eskimos to win the Grey Cup. That's $1,800 on a $100 bet.

You would have signed up for 18-to-1 on that bet back on Labour Day. Maciocia says he's not insulted.

"Probably a few other things insult me, but that's not one of them. When you take a look at it, the Blue Bombers were 6-3 in the second half of the season. They're a very good football team. They were the team favoured to win the Grey Cup at the start of the season. We're just happy being back in the playoffs."

Ray says he's not surprised.

"They have home field advantage. We are going into their place," said the quarterback.

Indeed. The Eskimos lost 30-23 there earlier this year.

Actually, only five Eskimos were alive the last time the Eskimos won a playoff football game in Winnipeg, way back when the Blue Bombers were in the West Division.

Only Dan Comiskey, Shannon Garrett, Jason Maas, Mike Mauer and Noel Prefontaine had been born when the Eskimos, in Dan Kepley's second season with the club back on Nov. 14, 1976, last won a playoff game in the Manitoba capital, by a score of 14-12.

Normally, home field is considered to be worth three points. So if this were a neutral site game it might be pick 'em.

"They were in the Grey Cup last year," said Edmonton's finalist in the CFL Awards as Outstanding Canadian, Kamau Peterson.

Almost everybody in the Winnipeg dressing room has playoff experience. Half the Eskimos have never seen a CFL playoff game, much less played in one.

Only 10 Esks are left from the 2005 Grey Cup season: Ray, Maas, Shannon Garrett, Patrick Kabongo, Andrew Nowacki, Comiskey, Tim Bakker, Taylor Inglis, Mauer and Mathieu Bertrand.

ON THE ROAD

"No one has ever gone on the road and won a crossover game before," added Peterson.

There's definitely that.

In the first ever crossover playoff game the fourth-place B.C Lions (8-10) bumped third-place Winnipeg (4-14) but lost 45-35 in Montreal to the Alouettes in 1997. In 2002, fourth-place Saskatchewan (8-10) bumped third-place Hamilton (7-11), then travelled to Toronto and lost 24-14 to the Argos.

The following year the Lions (11-7) bumped Ottawa (7-11), went to Toronto and lost 30-14 to the Argos. Most recently, in 2005, Saskatchewan (9-9) crossed over, bumping third-place Ottawa (7-11) and lost 30-14 to Montreal in the East semifinal.

Look at that a little harder and you'll notice the closest a crossover team managed to come was 10 points.

Doesn't matter. The Eskimos are the underdogs.

"That's good. That's great. We're happy to be underdogs," said Shannon Garrett, pointing out the last time the Eskimos won the Grey Cup they were underdogs in the semi, the final and the Grey Cup.

Me? I'm going with the team from the West.

Did nobody else notice Eastern teams only won six of 32 games against Western teams this year?

The Eskimos may not be going to the Grey Cup. But they are going to Montreal.

Edmonton by 3.


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