EDMONTON - To put this in perspective, the Edmonton Eskimos didn’t get their third win last year until Sept. 26 in Game 12 in the Touchdown Atlantic Game in Moncton, N.B.
And this team hasn’t been 3-0 out of the gate to start a season since Ricky Ray’s first year in 2002.
Which leads to the No. 1 question in Edmonton today: are the Eskimos for real?
Or maybe even a bigger picture question.
Is the suffering finally over with the Eskimos and Oilers in last place?
Are these the first three steps back toward the town’s top two teams finally representing the City of Champions like they used to?
With the Eskimos can this possibly be for real?
Hire Eric Tillman. Hire Kavis Reed. Hire Rich Stubler. Hire Marcus Crandell. Change half the roster.
Win 42-28. Win 28-10. Win 33-17.
Edmonton is 3-0 and the Saskatchewan Roughriders and B.C. Lions are both 0-3?
“We’ll find out in November. The most important thing is that we’re putting ourselves in pretty good position,” said coach Kavis Reed.
“We’ve only played three games. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You know how things can change. It’s a long season.
“Calgary is next. We didn’t play well against them last year,” said quarterback Ray.
“There are only two teams in the league who are 3-0 right now and we’re one of them. I know that’s for real,” said linebacker T.J. Hill.
“It’s only Week 3 but there sure is a different feel here,” said third-year defensive lineman Greg Peach.
Those kind of quotes, restrained and controlled, almost add to the feeling that this could be for real.
In fact, the best quote about the Eskimos, as was the case going into the game when he talked about how impressed he was with Edmonton’s no-name players and the intensity they’ve shown, came from B.C. Lions head coach Wally Buono.
“Offensively we couldn’t get a first down. Defensively Ricky Ray was good and made us pay, especially in the first half.
“Hopefully this is rock bottom. For me. For the coaches. For the players.
“We were out-played and out-coached.
“You have to give them credit. They are a better football team at this point. When you have a coaching change, there is a whole attitude change that can come with it. Ricky Ray has obviously taken well to Marcus Crandell who has done well with the offence.
“The offensive line has done a good job and you have to give Tim Prinsen a lot of credit. Rich Stubler is a good coach. We know that. He has managed to get a bunch of good young guys to buy into what he is doing.”
The Eskimos had a 17-3 edge in first downs, 305-103 in total offence and 21:23 to 8:37 in time of possession at the half.
While it was a win for the defence more than the offence which left points on the field, Ray was still 24 for 33 for 320 yards passing with Fred Stamps catching seven for 104 and the running game adding 142.
Nobody speaks more highly of the Eskimos defence than the quarterback.
“It’s so much nicer when the offence is playing with the lead the whole game. You can stay in the game plan. So far this year I’m able to play a lot more smart with the football. The defence, is just playing great.”
So far this year, the Eskimos haven’t trailed in a game for a single second.
Ray is 66 for 91 (72.5%) for 1,002 yards with a league-leading QB efficiency rating of 130.4 and Stamps leads the league with 316 yards receiving.
But, again, it’s the defence.
“Those guys are playing very fast football. When you play that way you mask a lot of mistakes they’re making and cause a lot of mistakes to be made,” said Reed.
“The one thing we know we can do is play fast and play with intensity,” said Hill, who deserved to share the game ball with Stamps.
“All I know is that there are a lot of hungry players on this team and most of them are players who are going to get better,” said Peach.
No promises. But a lot of promise.