Jones: No host advantage for Grey Cup

The Montreal Alouettes celebrate after winning the 98th Grey Cup at Commonwealth Stadium in...

The Montreal Alouettes celebrate after winning the 98th Grey Cup at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on November 28, 2010. (JORDAN VERLAGE/QMI AGENCY)

Terry Jones, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:07 PM ET

The Grey Cup is to be held here this year. Therefore, the B.C. Lions won’t be in it?

When you know the horrid history of Grey Cup hosts stumbling on the doorstep to getting into their own game, there’s hope in there somewhere for the six to 61/2-point underdog Edmonton Eskimos.

Most of the EE players probably have no idea of the built-in advantage they have involved in Sunday’s Western Conference final and the history of home teams gagging on the game to get to the Grey Cup in their own stadium. But their greatest hope in getting to the Grey Cup may be that history tends to repeat itself.

Twice before the Eskimos have beat the Lions in BC Place in the Western Final and returned a week later to win a game ranked as one of the absolute greatest games in all of the 98 years of Grey Cup history.

Indeed, the 1987 classic over the Toronto Argos was declared the greatest on the spot by veteran Grey Cup observers. And when the Eskimos beat the Lions here in the Western Final in 2005, the result was a 38-35 overtime win over the Montreal Alouettes in another game of games.

You want to talk about thrill of victory and agony of defeat? It’s multiplied when the host team swallows the olive in the final and thousands of ticket-for-sale ads fill the papers like happened here in 1987.

And it’s worse when it happens in a rivalry situation like when Edmonton, which had already won a Grey Cup out of the Stampeders dressing room in 1975, did it again in 1993, knocking off the Stamps in Calgary in the Western Final and then going on to win the Calgary Grey Cup.

B.C. did it to Calgary, in the same scenario, in 2000.

The only time there was some sort of positive involved for the home team was when the 12-6 Eskimos were bounced from the 1997 Edmonton Grey Cup by the 8-10 Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Western Final at Commonwealth Stadium. Going into the final a few thousand Grey Cup tickets remained to be sold. With the Saskatchewan win, Rider fans flooded in from everywhere.

You get the idea. The Eskimos are around the ball a lot for these happenings. And Wally Buono has been on the other side of the ball for more than his fair share. The Lions (and former Stamps) head coach is 8-8 in the Western Final, despite having home-field advantage for 12 of 16 of those games.

The lose-the-divisional-final syndrome has also happened in the East, most recently in 2007 when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat the Argos in the final and returned to play in the Grey Cup in Skydome. But mostly, it’s been a Western Final phenomenon.

In this game, featuring a Lions team that started the season 0-5 against an Eskimo team that got out of the gate 5-0, and with the B.C. bunch winning their last three against Edmonton, a betting line favouring the Leos by six points doesn’t seem out of line.

But it’s one game in a season which has been by far the most unpredictable in years. Indeed, the final four features Edmonton, B.C. Hamilton and Winnipeg in place of last year’s Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Saskatchewan.

“This isn’t hockey or baseball,” said Eskimos GM Eric Tillman. “It is not four out of seven. It’s a one-shot deal.”

Tillman has put the Eskimos in position to repeat the feat from his first full year as GM of the Roughriders, when Kent Austin coached Saskatchewan to the championship, with teamwork their calling card.

“Like that team, this one may not be great individually, but, collectively, we can accomplish special things. We have a very unselfish, team-oriented group that doesn’t worryabout stats and accolades,” said Tillman.

“Our young men understand that if we win on Sunday, there will be plenty of credit for everyone associated with our club, so let’s just take it one step at a time, play at full speed and see what unfolds.

“We haven’t reached the top of the mountain yet, but it sure is nice to be fighting for our breath at this altitude. It’s been a long time coming, right?”

Should the Eskimos manage to manufacture another in the long list of upsets in the final and boot the Lions out of their dressing room for Grey Cup week, they’ll move in quite comfortably to take over as the home team.

Edmonton opened the $563 million worth of new, improved stadium back on Sept. 30, returned again Oct. 29 and are back for their third game in the joint Sunday. It’s only the Lions fifth game in their refurbished home.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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