Esks, Argos working for home-field advantage

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:30 PM ET

MONCTON, N.B. -- The Toronto Argos are the home team. But will the Edmonton Eskimos have home-field advantage?

It was the Argos who gave up a home date to allow the creation of Touchdown Atlantic, the first neutral-site regular season game in CFL history and forerunner for a franchise here.

With both teams now in town, the battle for home-field advantage, the winning-over of the fans in the Maritimes, has begun. And this tussle may be better than the game.

The Eskimos scored a triumph in Prince Edward Island with a full day visit Tuesday. But the Argos have been working at this for a while.

"It's the P.E.I. Eskimos versus the Moncton Argos," laughed Toronto CEO Bob Nicholson, brandishing Wednesday's edition of the Moncton Times and Transcript.

The Argos had invited sportswriter Brent Mazerolle to spend last week with the team and the local scribe referred to them as the "Moncton Argonauts" in the first paragraph of a front page airport-arrival story.

The Argos have been trying to win friends and influence fans since sending Pinball Clemons over for openers.

"I think that was the closer," said Nicholson of the effect of the ex-Argo great and his winning personality.

"Last year it wouldn't have made a difference. We only won one game at home. This year we've only lost one at home," he said of the 6-5 surprise squad of the season.

The Eskimos are 0-5 on the road.

"This is a rare opportunity to turn an away game into a home game," said Eskimos CEO Rick LeLacheur of his 2-9 team, which is here with giveaways galore, pee wee footballs, shirts, hats and special autograph posters, all created for the occasion.

Last spring the Argos bought an ad in the Times and Transcript to congratulate the Moncton Wildcats for making it to the Memorial Cup "from your fellow home team."

It's a contest.

"We've put a lot of time and attention toward doing whatever we could to making Moncton feel like this is their team. We felt it was a big challenge because Edmonton has all their tradition and that Spirit of Edmonton group is a big factor," said Nicholson of the team which traditionally turns its operation into Grey Cup Party Central and has a full crew to do the same here.

But, again, the Argos made this a priority months ago.

"We were front and central at the Canada Day celebration with Big Bubba, our giant Argo inflatable player, on the lawn in front of City Hall."

While Eskimo equipment man Dwayne Mandrusiak won the media conference day here in March by presenting an Eskimos sweater to the Mayor, the Argos have now declared total victory of the City Hall battlefield.

"Go look at their flag pole," said Nicholson.

An Argo flag was flying high.

When the Eskimos showed up as the first team to practise on Rocky Stone Field (named after a person, not the condition of the ground or some sort of Flintstone reference), they found an Argo logo painted in the endzone. There isn't one on the game field at the University of Moncton yet. Then again, they haven't finished laying the carpet in the end zones of the otherwise grass field of the stadium built for the world junior track and field championships.

The teams both have busy schedules of school and hospital visits, with the Argos having the edge in English schools and the Eskimos with the edge in French-language schools, where they are making several bilingual players available.

Toronto is trying to dent the Spirit of Edmonton effect by taking over the Old Triangle Pub to turn it into a Double Blue room.

"The challenge there is that it's an Irish Pub and predominantly green," said Nicholson.

The Argos know about the Spirit of Edmonton effect.

"We were set up in the Argos' hotel in 1996 and about 1,000 people were having a lot of fun. They inspired Doug Flutie to move to a hotel on the outskirts of town in the middle of the night, because he wasn't getting any sleep," said Spirit head Bruce Keltie of the quarterback.

The Spirit of Edmonton is set up in a massive tent right outside the Argos hotel.

"The street party is supposed to go until about 4 a.m."

Not many Argo fans are coming from Toronto. Nicholson said they chose to go to the Edmonton Grey Cup game instead. Edmonton-based tour groups have groups of 100 and 45 fans en route and the Eskimos are bringing their entire front-office staff in as well.

"I'm not sure how many people are coming from Edmonton but I keep running into people," said LeLacheur.

"I met a couple today from Drayton Valley. And we're winning the battle of hotel management. The GM of our hotel, the Crowne Plaza, came from Edmonton House Hotel and the G. of the Argos hotel, the Delta, used to be at the Jasper Park Lodge and the director of sales used to be with me at Edmonton Tourism. It's early in the week and I've run into so many fans and people from Edmonton it's remarkable."

Take Toronto in the game and Edmonton in the party.


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