Edmonton Eskimos get acclimated -- finally!

(Left to right) Damaso Munoz and Calvin McCarty take part in an Edmonton Eskimos' team practice at...

(Left to right) Damaso Munoz and Calvin McCarty take part in an Edmonton Eskimos' team practice at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton this week. (DAVID BLOOM/QMI AGENCY)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:11 AM ET

EDMONTON - It was below zero: -1 C.

And there they were. The Edmonton Eskimos. Finally out there practising in the elements.

With the new fieldhouse attached to their state-of-the-art dressing room and other fancy facilities, the Eskimos have been the most coddled collection of fair-weather football players to ever play in Edmonton.

"Decided to take the country clubbers outside," your correspondent playfully poked head coach Kavis Reed.

"That might be a good word," he laughed.

This is a team that was chased inside by mosquitoes.

There was a day when it started raining, stopped, started again and stopped again and the Eskimos were running in and out like they were in an old silent movie.

Wednesday it snowed. Back indoors they went again.

Reed's philosophy has been that the Eskimos have this outstanding facility that nobody else in the league has. Use it for all it's worth. If the weather (or mosquito) conditions are not going to be close to what they'll be on game day, why have substandard practice conditions with distractions and possible injury-producing situations, when there are perfect conditions a few steps away?

But despite 12 C temperatures projected for the 2 p.m. game Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Reed decided it was time.

"They need to get acclimated," he said.

"I told 'em, they ain't seen nuthin' yet," said receiver Fred Stamps of pro football's most northern franchise, which features a ridiculous number of players from sunbelt schools in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, New Mexico and especially Louisiana.

"It's cold, it's really, really cold to me," said defensive end Brandon Lang, a native of Tucker, Ga., who showed up here two weeks ago to become an Eskimo, but not expecting to become one in the literal sense.

"I can't imagine it being colder than this."

J.C. Sherritt, who played at Eastern Washington and lives in Spokane, wasn't exactly walking around rubbing sun tan lotion on his arms but admits being a Big Sky Conference guy who played in snow in high school, etc., there are sights to see around a young CFL team in Edmonton when the frost first hit the pumpkin.

"I looked out of the dressing room Wednesday and Michael Ricks is out on the field taking pictures of the snow," he said of the practice roster player from Courtland, Ala.

Veteran T.J. Hill said he couldn't help but wander around, reminding a few guys of training camp back in June.

"We had a day they thought was cold. Now they think this is cold. I was going around telling them 'This is what the CFL is all about,' that it's still not cold. Cold is what it was like for a game we had here against B.C. in late October 2009 when it was negative 15. Minus 20 with the wind chill," he said.

Reed said these guys ought to have been around for the Western Conference final in 1996 in Calgary if they want to talk about cold-weather football.

"With the wind chill it was -40. We were all mad at Sean Fleming for missing the field goal because it meant we had to stay out there and play overtime," he laughed of the game the Eskimos eventually won 15-12 to get to the Grey Cup.

"Before the game I made the mistake of asking somebody if they were going to postpone it," said the then second-year Eskimo defensive back.

Reed admitted that for a lot of guys on his southern squad in this northern climate, "this is a shock to their system" but added that it also provided some humour.

"To see Dwayne Mandrusiak out there in his shorts, as always, teasing everybody about being soft, is always enjoyable," he said of the Eskimos equipment manager of 40-some years.

"I like to play the Miami card," said Mandrusiak.

"They think I'm crazy being out there in shorts.

"I tell them if they don't like this weather they better go home because it's just beginning."

It's fun to stand in the dressing room interviewing Mandrusiak and seeing passing players' expressions when you talk of the early '80s, when he had half the team wearing pantyhose for cold-weather games.

"We did some experimenting in the early '80s," he said. "Now it's polypropylene."

Mandrusiak said at least there wasn't a Bennie Goods out there this day.

"Bennie Goods was the worst," he remembers of the former Eskimos defensive lineman. "He'd go out there with four layers of clothes for practice. He couldn't move in practice."

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terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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