Eskimos lean on rich history

Head coach Kavis Reed welcomes Edmonton Eskimos Hall of Fame member Willie Pless back into the fold...

Head coach Kavis Reed welcomes Edmonton Eskimos Hall of Fame member Willie Pless back into the fold as the club's new community ambassador on May 13. Perry Mah, QMI Agency

Terry Jones, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:38 PM ET

EDMONTON - There will be guest speakers.

“Oh, yes,” said Edmonton Eskimos’ head coach Kavis Reed.

“We’ll have alumni members talking to the team just as we’ve had all year,” he said of the time between now and Sunday’s Western Conference semifinal.

“They’ll be guys who have played in playoff games against the Stampeders talking about their Calgary playoff experiences.

“These guys from the five-in-a-row and the 34-consecutive-years-in-the-playoffs teams are the best teachers.”

One of the most important things Reed has done in his first year as head coach has been to re-establish the connection to the Eskimos of the past and present and bring back the traditions of the team.

So far this season Larry Wruck, Willie Pless, Jed Roberts, Garry Lefebvre, Glen Harper, Chris Morris and Gizmo Williams have talked to the team.

Those alumni members and Eskimos such as Ed Jones, Tom Richards, Eric Upton, Bryan Fryer, Hector Pothier, Bill Manchuk, Bayne Norrie, Emilio Fraietta and so many others have put on the gold sweaters and formed the honour guard gauntlet for the players to run through prior to every game. It’s a new tradition, if you will, which Reed started this year.

Reed thinks the alumni played a part in clinching a 53rd appearance in the playoffs in 63 Eskimos seasons and the 41st time the team has finished in either first or second place to guarantee a home playoff game.

“He’s re-established that link between the old and the new,” said Pless.

“I think all the alumni have enjoyed the involvement and to be able to show the new players that we’re all still proud of the Eskimos and this community.

“I’m seeing a lot of things I like that I haven’t seen in a long time. In the past few years, it didn’t seem like the players wanted to bring the extra effort and bust their butts like we’ve seen them do this year.

“Every game we’re seeing players playing hard and wearing the Eskimo uniform with pride and I think they’re starting to understand they’re not just playing for themselves but for the players before them, too. I think they see the players who line up for them when they’re coming out the tunnel and see that we’re proud to be on that field.

“I hope the next thing we see is a lot of the U.S. players deciding to live all year in the community like so many of us over the years chose to do. We definitely need their faces in the community.”

Having played most of his career here when Rich Stubler was the defensive co-ordinator the first time around, Pless sees deja vu.

“That front seven was together for a long time and I can see that happening again with this group. I can see some very successful years ahead.”

Nobody has been watching this with more interest than Eskimos legendary coach, general manager and CEO Hugh Campbell.

“I remember when I was coaching asking Norm Kimball if it would be OK if Pop Ivy could run out with me for the introductions at the start of the game,” said Campbell of former GM Kimball on an occasion when Ivy, the coach of the three-in-a-row 1954-55-56 Grey Cup champions was in town.

“Back when I coached, we embraced the past and relished the future,” he said.

“We established our identity by kind of identifying with that team. We weren’t trying to break their records or to be loved more but kind of make ourselves a part of the whole thing. I think that’s what Kavis is attempting to do.

“For what he’s done so far, I give him a lot of credit. He’s bringing in a new culture there. He has a ways to go but I think he’s getting close.

“This team has already had a better season than I would have anticipated. They’re headed in the right direction. They look like a well-coached team most of the time,” said the father of the Eskimos’ special teams co-ordinator.

“They’re a team that on any given day could beat any team in the league or lose to any team in the league, not one which you’d call a favourite yet. But they’ve come a good long way.”

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