Eskimos survivors

Longtime Eskimos Andrew Nowacki (left) and Mathieu Bertrand check out the media guide issued by the...

Longtime Eskimos Andrew Nowacki (left) and Mathieu Bertrand check out the media guide issued by the team during its 2004 Grey Cup run in the team's dressing room at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alta., on Nov. 7, 2011. (IAN KUCERAK/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:33 AM ET

EDMONTON - They’re the sole survivors of a forgotten game.

It was the last Edmonton Eskimos home playoff game in Commonwealth Stadium back in 2004.

“It seems like forever ago,” said Andrew Nowacki.

Mathieu Bertrand and Nowacki are the only players who remain from that game.

They’ve witnessed a steady stream of players wear the green and gold and play at least one regular-season game with the team.

“There’s had to have been 35 new guys every year,” said Nowacki.

Close.

The total is 249.

Think about that.

Two hundred and forty-nine players who walked under the “Once An Eskimo, Always an Eskimo” sign between home playoff games of a team which once played a North American pro sports record 34 consecutive years in the playoffs. There were 25 consecutive years with home playoff games under Hugh Campbell, first as coach and then in his return as GM and CEO.

Two hundred and forty-nine players!

That’s a staggering number.

“Heck I’d like to know the number since we were in our last playoff game in 2009,” said Ricky Ray, the quarterback who played in a Grey Cup in his rookie season in 2002, won it in 2003 and was Grey Cup MVP in winning it in 2005 but wasn’t around in 2004, having spent the year with the New York Jets of the NFL.

Worked that out by special request, Ricky. It’s 71!

Forty (count ‘em, 40) of them have been this year including half the 46-man roster which will be declared for Sunday’s Western Conference semifinal against the Calgary Stampeders!

“When I arrived in 2004 I thought I was going to go to the Grey Cup every year,” said Nowacki.

“I mean, you feel spoiled coming into a situation like that. I came into a team with four potential Hall of Fame receivers in Ed Hervey, Mookie Mitchell, Terry Vaughn and Jason Tucker.”

Fullback Bertrand and receiver Nowacki have seen them all come and go and finally maybe now come and grow into the team head coach Kavis Reed intends to return to being the title team in the City of Champions it was when they showed up.

“We’ve fought for it all year,” said Bertrand. “Now hopefully we’ll use it to our advantage.”

They didn’t the last time.

It was a 14-6 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Western Conference semifinal before a crowd of 37,359.

“I can’t remember it very clearly,” said Nowacki.

Winning the last Grey Cup in 2005, the only one which was accomplished with all the post-season games played on the road, he remembers clearly.

Patrick Kabongo and Taylor Inglis were rookies that year.

“It’s totally different,” said Bertrand of the Eskimos going into this Western semi as the one where he came in.

“That was a team which had just won a Grey Cup after having lost the Grey Cup the year before that.

“This is such a young team. But I love what I see here. Everybody is hungry now and these guys love each other.”

Nowacki agreed with Bertrand’s assessment.

“It’s a hungry bunch with a great mix of guys with a great combination of youth and veteran leadership. All the egos and personal agendas are not involved with the group.”

Bertrand said he can’t help but feel fortunate.

“Considering the two of us were both rookies that year and we’re still here, I guess I kind of feel lucky to still be here,” said Bertrand as he and Nowacki flipped through the pages of the 2004 Eskimos media guide.

“We were training camp roommates that year.”

You’d understand if the two felt cheated in being part of a rare stretch of Eskimos history without success.

“Not cheated,” he said. “I just have a new found respect for getting deep in the playoffs. And it’s definitely made me more and more hungry as the years have gone by.”

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terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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