Esks play down rivalry
By Gerry Moddejonge, QMI Agency
|For the first time in years, the Battle of Alberta will feature two teams vying for first place in the West. (Ryan McLeod/QMI Agency)
CALGARY — The Edmonton Eskimos are approaching Saturday like it's just another game.
But it wasn't always that way.
While the CFL's Battle of Alberta has become decidedly lopsided over the past few years, the Eskimos are looking to renew the rivalry with the Calgary Stampeders in a fight for first place in the West Division.
Saturday will be the biggest test of the season for the Eskimos, who will face their first opponent with a winning record this season.
"We call it another game, to be quite honest, because if I overemphasize this game greater than any that we've played or will play, I think it could screw the guys up mentally," said Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed. "We have to approach each game as a season and this is another season that we're going to play. This is Calgary, it's a little bit special because it is our rival, but at the same time, rivalry only gets you through the tunnel. Once you cross the line, you have to actually play football."
While the rivalry isn't the same as it was back when he played defensive back for the Eskimos from 1995-99, Reed said it hasn't gone anywhere, despite Calgary winning seven of the last 10 meetings.
"To me, I'm excited that the Battle of Alberta is back to where it needs to be because when I first came to the CFL back in the late Ô90s, you always expected in the West, Edmonton and Calgary would be battling for top spot," said Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris. "It's still early in the season, a lot of teams are still feeling each other out, but Edmonton, they've done all the right things to put themselves in this position."
That position is first place, and ahead of Calgary in the standings for the first time since 2009.
"It's a rivalry, we used to call it a bloodbath," Reed said. "You'd go down there and the (team that won) the Labour Day Rematch was the team that had enough players to play because you truly went to a war of attrition. Hopefully we go down there and play a very smart football game."
Which is something past Eskimos squads have had trouble with, winning just one game in McMahon Stadium since 2005.
"The Battle of Alberta is the most heated rivalry in the game," Burris said. "And here, in the past couple years, it's been Saskatchewan-Calgary.
"But now it's good to see that this rivalry is back to where it needs to be and we're battling for all the marbles as far as early in the season goes."
For some longtime Eskimos, the rivalry never went anywhere, it just didn't go the way they planned lately.
"To me, it feels like a rivalry. Everybody's in the same province, they're three hours away," said Eskimos slotback Fred Stamps. "They're feeling the same way we're feeling, they want to go in and beat Edmonton and we want to go in and beat Calgary, so it's a rivalry."
In fact, Stamps said he would be fine if the Stampeders continued to take the rivalry lightly because of Calgary's run of success.
"That's the past, people still think we're lucky by winning these three games," Stamps said. "It doesn't matter what people think right now. We don't need anybody jumping on our bandwagon.
"We want them to look past us. We want to be the underdogs."