Esks eye start of new tradition

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:10 AM ET

This is not generally what 'The Start Of Something Big' looks like.

The Edmonton Eskimos are stumbling into a Thanksgiving Day game having blown a 5-0 start to the season by winning only two of their last eight games while losing the last three at home by a combined count of 100-42 in front of a combined crowd count of 121,162.

And the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who fired one coach and returned to their old coach to win three straight games, have now lost consecutive games by 37-point margins -- 42-5 and 40-3. And they now look like they've completely given up on the old guy and especially on themselves, as they go into Thanksgiving with quarterback Darian Durant no better than 50-50 to start and the Roughriders facing mathematical elimination from playoff contention in the West if they lose.

And yet ticket sales are tracking for 40,000-plus for what Environment Canada is projecting as a glorious Thanksgiving weekend in both Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan at Edmonton on Thanksgiving Day has never happened before. Not even by accident.

But it says here it may happen every year going forward. What you may be about to experience is the first annual Thanksgiving Day Classic.

The Eskimos are looking at trying to make it a CFL annual staple game, like the Edmonton at Calgary Labour Day Classic.

"We have not had a Thanksgiving Day game here for a long time," said Eskimos president and CEO Rick LeLacheur, soon to be mentoring Len Rhodes into the job.

"We will work with the CFL to see if it is possible to build a feature game with Saskatchewan each Thanksgiving Day. There is nothing like a nice fall day in October for a home football game," said the soon-to-retire executive.

"I hope it will happen," said Eskimos' vice-president of marketing and brand management, Duane Vienneau.

"Saskatchewan has become a major rival over the last five years -- so much so that that sometimes the rivalry seems to be stronger than Calgary. This could be an opportunity for fans and family to come together and create a new tradition.

"This year the attendance for the Labour Day rematch against Calgary was 45,672 and to date we are tracking at an almost identical pace."

The last 10 games the Calgary Stampeders have played in Commonwealth Stadium have drawn crowds of 45,672, 35,349, 33,065, 46,212, 32,706, 46,014, 32,664, 42,329, 40,491 and 47,965.

That's an average of 40,247.

The last 10 games the Saskatchewan Roughriders have played in the big stadium have drawn crowds of 47,829, 38,325, 62,517, 48,808, 46,704, 40,127, 39,599, 31,779, 53,212 and 42,399.

That's an average of 45,130.

"We believe this game has lots of potential to be an annual game for our neighbours from the province next door and those, as they say, who 'live among us' can count on every year to attend," said Vienneau.

"We have heard stories from a lot of fans telling us they have received calls from relatives who live in Saskatchewan who are coming to visit family for the holidays and take in the game. This really could be the next great CFL tradition."

Eskimos' general manager Eric Tillman suggests the twist of having an Edmonton-Saskatchewan Thanksgiving Day engagement alternating back and forth on even- and odd-numbered years might also be an interesting concept. But either way "¶

"Knowing them like I do, I would think Roger Brandvold, Jim Hopson and the Riders leadership would love it!" said Tillman, a former Roughrider general manager.

"Special days like Labour Day and Thanksgiving are unique opportunities to showcase our league to the largest national television audiences, and Saskatchewan, with their passionate and devoted fan base, takes great pride in reflecting so favorably on our league.

"From our perspective, along with Calgary, the Riders are our best draw.

When Commonwealth has 45,000 or more, it shows what a special rivalry these games are and the nation gets a true sense of the unique tradition that comes with Edmonton Eskimos football."

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones


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