EDMONTON - The 2011 Edmonton Eskimos assembled for their team picture Monday, not sure if it would end up being suitable for framing or to be stapled to a dart board.
As the dust cleared from the Labour Day week doubleheaders, one thing became obvious. Other than the Toronto Argos, you could make a case that anyone could end up in the Grey Cup.
But of all the teams, the win-five, lose-three, fly-like-an-eagle on Labour Day, fall-like-a-WKRP-turkey in the rematch, the mercurial Eskimos are the one team in the league which could finish from first to fourth.
“Fans have waited a long time and we want to give them a winner again — a football club they can embrace. But to do that we better be our best down the stretch because right now we have two Dobermans biting at our butts,” said general manager Eric Tillman of B.C. and Saskatchewan.
In the West, with the Lions and Riders scoring sweeps, the Eskimos find themselves going into the final eight games of the season not sure if they’re on the up escalator or on the down elevator sitting with a 6-4 record but having lost four of their last five.
“It’s getting tighter,” said quarterback Ricky Ray.
“We’re going to have to play good football from now until the end of the season. But that’s the objective anyway. You want to be playing well going into the playoffs.
“We’re finally getting healthy and I think that’s really going to be the key. With all our players back, it goes back to everybody just going out and making plays.”
Greg Peach, the now healthy minister of defence, said there’s a football team here now.
“If we play like we know we can play and do it every week now, everything will fall into place,” he said.
The Roughriders, with Greg Marshall fired and Ken Miller back as head coach and with Andy Fantuz back from the NFL, turned Winnipeg from Swaggerville to Staggerville to Saggerville to Gaggerville while Wally Buono has his B.C. Lions turned around and on a three-game winning streak with a for-against record of 260-225 and a 4-6 record that isn’t representative of the Lions play.
“We’re getting to the days where every snap really counts and where we have to take care of the details.
There’s a lot of emphasis on the Labour Day games. But when you get back to work, all of a sudden you realize it’s the 11th game,” said coach Kavis Reed.
What looked for the Eskimos like a soft second half schedule with two games against Saskatchewan and B.C. suddenly looks a lot different and there’s this week’s trip to Hamilton and visits by Montreal and Winnipeg teams which clobbered them in their parks.
“We know it’s been a long time since that last playoff game was here in 2004,” said Tillman.
“We respect Calgary, B.C. and Saskatchewan, but we’re excited about the challenge and the opportunity these next few weeks are going to bring.”
It was that attitude the Eskimos brought back to Commonwealth Stadium Monday as they assembled for the team picture and went back to work.
It’s been a long time since three Eastern teams could be considered Grey Cup contenders at this stage of the season. And the West just got interesting with the way everything went down during the Labour Day run.
“B.C. is playing like gangbusters and their next five games are against West Division teams. The Riders are playing terrific football now, too, and five of their next six are divisional games. And if we go 5-3 down the stretch, that would give us 11 wins and Calgary would need to win 12 to finish first since we hold the tiebreaker,” said Tillman.
“It’s going to be great for TV and fans around the country. It’s shaping up as a dream stretch run with possibilities of photo finishes for first in the East and the West. But it’s ulcer time for those of us who are paid to win.
“That’s the great thing about what’s ahead. We can all write our own stories.”
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