EDMONTON - Part of the project to return the Edmonton Eskimos to the days of old is to return to the days when visiting teams came to Commonwealth Stadium expecting to lose.
Ah, those were the days, my friend, you thought they'd never end. But the question as the Eskimos prepare to play the Toronto Argos here Friday, is if those days are here again.
Much is being made, of course, of the Eskimos getting off to a 4-0 start and being the only undefeated team remaining in the league this season.
Not as much is being made of Edmonton also being the only remaining undefeated team left in the league at home, with a 2-0 record, while the Saskatchewan Roughriders are 0-2 at Mosaic Stadium, the Calgary Stampeders are 0-2 at McMahon Stadium and the B.C Lions are 0-2 at Empire Field.
Winning is winning. It's the same two points home or away. But there's suddenly the hope around here with the sizzling start to this season that maybe, just maybe, it can also be the start of the Eskimos returning to being a dominant team at home.
In the last five years the Eskimos have lost 19 games and tied one at home.
In the previous four seasons, dating back to Ricky Ray's arrival here, the Eskimos were 8-1, 8-1 7-2, 7-2 and had home winning streaks of seven games in 2002 and eight games in 2003.
Certainly with a winnable game against the 1-3 Toronto Argos here Friday and another against the 0-4 B.C. Lions Aug. 19, there's potential to re-establish something here.
"Championship teams win on the road but winning at home energizes your fan base, and builds a mindset in the locker room and in the community — an attitude — that home field is more than just a phrase," said GM Eric Tillman.
"When you build that expectation of success every single time you step on the field in Commonwealth Stadium, you've built something special.
"Look, we're still in the formative stages of building around here, but it's one of the many traditions we hope to establish in time."
Did you know the Eskimos are 5-0 at home since Tillman was hired at mid-season last year?
The Eskimos had won two of their first six games under previous management but won the last three of the season last year after Tillman took over.
Indeed, going back to Labour Day of 2009, until Tillman showed up, the Eskimos had won only three out of their previous nine in the big stadium.
Maybe it wouldn't be worthy of much mention except that, after Tillman took over the Roughriders in mid-season in 2006, Saskatchewan had 7-2 seasons at home in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Indeed, in his first full season taking over from Roy Shivers, Tillman's Roughriders won their first six games in Mosaic Stadium.
Tillman's teams have a home record of 29-7 in Saskatchewan and Edmonton combined.
The red-headed GM says the most important home game statistics to him are home playoff games.
But you don't get one without the others.
The Eskimos, who have finished first 23 times and second 18 times in their 62-year post-Second World War history, have previously had more than their fair share of home playoff games. But, while they last won the Grey Cup in 2005, the last playoff game here was in 2004.
When Tillman took over in Saskatchewan, the Riders proceeded to play host to three consecutive playoff games after going without one for 18 straight seasons. Interesting is that the Riders won the Cup in 1989 from third place, like the Eskimos in 2008, but their last home playoff game was the previous year, in 1988.
In 2009 the Roughriders played host to the Western Final for the first time in 33 years. The last one here was in 2003.
"When you win at home, your fans get to experience the fun and excitement that comes with success," said Tillman.
"And I don't think there's any doubt, Edmonton is ready to embrace a winner."
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