Back to the future?

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:24 AM ET

The year was 1971.

Your correspondent was a young scribe on the Eskimos scene when one day the sports editor dropped a pile of football action pictures on my desk.

“You’ve got the entire page, kid,” he said of the broadsheet paper.

“I want you to take these pictures and think up funny stuff to have coming out of the mouths of these bums and we’ll put them in balloons like in the comic strips. Make the fans laugh and the players cringe.”

It’s starting to look like history is repeating itself.

This could be the second coming of 1971 — which was the absolute worst start in Eskimos history.

The focus, until now, was 1965, when the Eskimos lost their first five games. They failed to match that this year when they managed to beat the equally inept B.C. Lions after losing their first four.

In 1971, the Eskimos won one of their first 11 games!

When you get to 1-10, the anger and outrage evaporates, replaced by ridicule.

With a 1-5 start and losing 100-yard-a-game star receiver Fred Stamps, their best player this season, can you expect this skid row team to do anything but really hit the skids?

Especially when their next five games are against Calgary, Saskatchewan, Calgary, Calgary and Montreal — teams that have combined to lose one less game than the Eskimos?

Matching that 1-10 record of 1971 suddenly looks, uh, well, achievable.

Gather round, kiddies. Let me tell you about the way it was way back then.

You see, 1971 was supposed to be the year. All the signs were there.

The year before, coach Ray Jauch had turned the team around. Coming out of the sad-sack ’60s, when Neill Armstrong was finally fired, Jauch won nine games as a rookie head coach.

In 1971, it was all supposed to come together for the Eskimos. For the first time in ages, their training camp wasn’t supposed to be more interesting than their season.

Sound familiar?

By September, GM Norm Kimball decided that the players they figured were going to return the team to the glory days of the ’50s when Jackie Parker, Normie Kwong, Johnny Bright and Rollie Miles led the charge, just weren’t going to git ’r done.

After the Eskimos lost their eighth game in nine, Jauch made the statement.

“Fifty per cent isn’t good enough,” said the head coach. “I’m not going to bother pointing fingers at anyone right now, but I’ve had enough. We’re going to be shaking hands with a lot of players this week.”

The time had come for an airlift to not just change the talent on the team but to change the culture.

On Sept. 8, quarterback Bruce Lemmerman arrived. And when the airlift was over, the Eskimos of 1971 won their last five games of the season.

“You wouldn’t believe it was the same football team,” said Kimball. “And that’s because it isn’t.”

The following season, the Eskimos made the playoffs to start what would become a North American pro sports record of 34 consecutive seasons in post-season play.

The year after that, they were in the Grey Cup for the first time since 1960. They would be in the Grey Cup final nine of the next 10 seasons, and win it six times.

If 2010’s empty-effort losing continues, we should expect another airlift coming soon.

Hopefully, Paul Jones, Ed Hervey and the bird dogs the Eskimos pay to scout NFL training camps are out there looking for character more than talent — guys who show up for the first quarter and have an extra gear to shift into in the fourth.

Meanwhile, the guys who are here better be prepared for the ridicule ahead.

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos