EDMONTON - History repeats.
That’s the year the B.C. Lions lost the Western Conference Final after having won the last eight in the regular season.
The 2011 Lions had won eight straight going into last week’s stunning 42-10 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
After taking over as G.M. in Saskatchewan at mid-season the year before, just as he did in Edmonton last year, Eric Tillman put together a team under first time CFL head coach Kent Austin, which won the Grey Cup.
The Eskimos go into B.C. Place two wins away from getting to the Grey Cup.
Win this one and they’ll finish first for the 23rd time in team history and the first time since 2003 and get the bye to the Western Final, one win away from playing in the 99th Grey Cup game Nov. 26 in Vancouver.
Let’s let the Vancouver scribes deal with the former.
“No comparisons yet,” said Tillman of the latter.
“I won’t even go there until or unless we finish first. And, anyway, in 2007 we actually finished second in the West.
“Yes, 2007 was a remarkable story, a magical season, but 2007 would just be looked back upon as a good season, nothing more, minus the magic that November brought. So since we haven’t reached November, haven’t even locked up a home playoff game yet, it wouldn’t be wise or respectful to start comparing the two seasons.
“That said, via our turnaround, we’ve had a lot to smile about these past four months. I’m happy for our players, coaches and fans. We’ve come a long way in one year, but we have greater aspirations.”
While he can’t be coerced into making comparisons to 2007 yet, Tillman does admit there’s one very obvious comparison he doesn’t mind tackling going into the biggest game of the season.
Kavis Reed and Kent Austin.
“Both guys are so smart — I mean brilliant,” said Tillman.
“Kent was an Academic All American and he was nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship while Kavis was a biology major with intentions of going to medical school. In the football profession, it’s more common to be honoured to graduate than it is to graduate with honours.”
Tillman says Reed is accomplishing the same things internally in 2011 that Austin did in 2007.
“Both have a special ability to create an expectation of success within the football family. Teams always reflect the personalities of their head coach and with Kent and Kavis, both instill a quiet confidence which is far different than the braggadocio, loud, in-your-face style which has become too much of the norm in this modern era.
“Kent’s and Kavis’s two approaches are refreshing. I call them substance over style.”
Tillman said Reed has already made himself a study in going 10-6 to this point with the Eskimos with 23 new players of 46 on the roster and 12 of the 24 starters new as well.
“Kavis brings a unique balance as a head coach, of caring about these young men and their lives on an individual basis while also being very demanding and expecting physical and mental toughness from them.”
Reed also did something that hasn’t really been done here since Hugh Campbell started off with a staff of Cal Murphy, Joe Faragalli and Don Matthews.
“Some young coaches can be intimidated by experience, but Kavis was wise enough to understand the importance of quality assistant coaches. Collectively this staff has done a remarkable job. Our young players have managed to get better and better and if we do finish first in the west, that’ll be a direct reflection of good coaching.
“But with all of that said, among Kavis’ greatest contributions has been the manner in which he’s embraced the rich history of our organization. He has reached out to the alumni, making them understand this is still very much their team and he’s taught our young men to respect the people who came before us.
“It’s one thing to tell players; but it’s another to teach them. Kavis has done the latter in terms of embracing the past and by emphasizing the Eskimo way, which means to win with dignity and humility.”
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