EDMONTON - “EE-Hawww!” the billboard outside McMahon Stadium screams.
“See you Monday Stamps fans,” is the rest of a message.
The billboard shows an Eskimos fan, wearing a black cowboy hat and wearing a Ricky Ray jersey as he rides and whips a red-wigged Stampeders fan, down on all fours, like a rented mule.
(In smaller print at the bottom it also says: “No Stampeder fans were physically harmed in the making of this billboard.”)
What’s going on here?
The Edmonton team of tradition attempting to bring back the Eskimos Way under Kavis Reed is suddenly trash-talking the Stampeders on a billboard, right under their noses?
And talk about location, location, location.
This billboard is on the back of the McMahon Stadium sign at 16th avenue and Crowchild Trail.
Considering the way Edmonton played in their last three games, you have to wonder if the Eskimos really want to be doing this right now.
I mean, do you really want to add extra motivation and rile up the Stampeders with a billboard that the players drive by every day on the way to the dressing room?
“You might have to call me Tuesday and see how it works out,” said Eskimos new vice-president of marketing and brand management Duane Vienneau.
It’s a new Battle of the Billboards.
Until last year this has been an Saskatchewan thing. But then, last year, the Eskimos fired back with a Rider Pride retaliation billboard: “They can’t count to 13 at Grey Cup. We have 13 Grey Cups and counting.”
That was in reference to the Roughriders losing the Grey Cup due to a too-many men-on-the-field call.
Saskatchewan had most recently bought a billboard outside Commonwealth Stadium trumpeting: “Hey Eskies fans. We’ll save a section for you!”
They didn’t. Saskatchewan fans produced a CFL regular season record attendance of 62,517.
The billboard thing goes back to 2003 and the one with the watermelon headed fan and the slogan which became almost an anthem for former Saskatchewan residents living in Alberta: “We walk among you.”
There’s been a steady stream of inspired offerings ever since.
“Rider Pride Nationwide,” was one.
“Fantutorial” and the date of the game was another.
But that was Saskatchewan. This is Calgary. This is different. There’s no love lost here.
“We’ve never done it in Calgary before,” admits Vienneau.
“We’ve never done it on the road before.”
It should be noted, perhaps, that the Eskimos were 5-0 when they bought the billboard.
“It’s to say we’re fighting for first place on Monday,” said Vienneau, of the situation involving the 6-2 Stampeders and 5-3 Eskimos which hasn’t existed for several seasons.
“The Edmonton-Calgary rivalry has kind of taken second fiddle to Saskatchewan the past few years. But going into this Labour Day doubleheader, the Stampeders and the Eskimos are in first and second.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re doing this. We’re building the Labour Day games up for our fans again.”
GM Eric Tillman offered an enlightened response.
“Marketing concepts have significant value, and creative people with those responsibilities are paid to look after things such as billboards. We, on the other hand, are paid to produce scoreboards that make our fans smile.”
So, Kavis Reed, did you know about the billboard?
“Uh, no,” he said.
But he says he’s OK with it.
“I don’t think those things affect the outcome of games. If I’m wrong about that, I hope it distracts them and they can’t focus on their play,” the new Eskimos coach laughed.
As a former Eskimos player, Reed knows all about Labour Day and how these two games are historically entirely different than the other 16 on the schedule.
If anything, because of the situation this year, with half a team of first-year Eskimos and that three-game losing streak, Reed figures the less focus on the legend and lore of Labour Day, the better.
“I think the best approach I can take is to allow ignorance to be bliss,” he said.
Good luck with that.
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