Criticism fuels Eskimo playoff run

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

Unrelenting criticism from the media and other public voices this season is providing an emotional lift for the Edmonton Eskimos in this CFL playoff drive.

With the Green and Gold getting ready for Saturday's East Division playoff final in Montreal, head coach Danny Maciocia was asked yesterday what is driving his team emotionally.

"The fact we haven't been to the playoffs the last two years," said Maciocia, launching into a lengthy answer.

"The fact that the critics came out and didn't have us making the playoffs this year.

"The fact they were going to run everybody out of town during the course of the year.

"The fact that they didn't pick us to win our playoff game in Winnipeg.

"There are many different factors that come into play.

"A lot of people had us counted out. We are building a ship here and, right now, we are sailing it and we have got certain people on board who are believing in what we are trying to do.

"We don't feel like we have reached our destination yet."

The us-against-the-world mentality started to appear in certain areas of the Edmonton locker-room before last week's East Division semifinal game in Winnipeg.

But now it has spilled over and is coming from the top of the football operations department, not just players.

"At some point in time everybody has been called out and questioned and criticized," added Maciocia.

"It has been a long process. It has probably gone a year too long. We were in a rebuilding mode (in 2006). We didn't think it would take two years, but it did. And some of the moves are paying dividends (now)."

The football team - while not publicly saying it through the year - has been well aware of some of the media criticism. Now that card is starting to be played.

As for fan frustration, it has been heard at Commonwealth Stadium and seen on fan chat sites - like esksfans.com

Players are also becoming more vocal with the media in this playoff drive regarding their feelings on past critical articles.

From every corner of the locker-room the players seem to be enjoying the underdog status in the post-season. But if Edmonton wins Saturday against the heavily favoured hometown Alouettes, that underdog card will be hard to play heading into the Grey Cup on Nov. 23.

FINISH LINES ...

Edmonton fullback Mathieu Bertrand didn't practise yesterday, continuing to rest a deep bone bruise on his leg. But in a good sign for the Esks, nobody else watched the lengthy session from the sidelines at Clarke Stadium.

EXTRA POINTS ...

Edmonton will play indoors the rest of the season.

With the East final at covered Olympic Stadium and the Grey Cup in the same location, the Esks know they won't see winter's slippery and cold face on game day the rest of the year. And Maciocia is pretty pleased about that.

"I would never have thought I would say this, but I have been thinking about it for the last two weeks, that a team named the Eskimos would actually prefer playing indoors," said the bench boss.

Edmonton's passing game had trouble stretching Winnipeg's defence on a slippery field last weekend.

That won't be the case Saturday, with the fast track artificial surface being perfect for speedsters like receivers Kelly Campbell, Maurice Mann and Fred Stamps.

Edmonton led the league with an average of 335 passing yards a game in the regular season.


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