Slow start unusual for Alouettes

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:43 AM ET

The Montreal Alouettes with four - maybe five - losses before Labour Day?

What's going on, Don?

This is a team which, since 1997, managed to break from the gate at 3-0, 3-0, 3-0, 5-0, 4-0, 8-0, 3-0 and 6-0.

Four, maybe five losses before Labour Day doesn't compute.

The Als, when forced to answer questions on their start this season, usually form answers along the lines of their great starts having only produced one Grey Cup title, and maybe starting slow and finishing strong is a better idea.

The Als, who haven't been under .500 since they started 0-3 in 1996, their first year back in the CFL after an absence, avoided it in Week Three when they beat the Eskimos to go 2-1 instead of 1-2.

Montreal was in the same situation two weeks ago when they took on Toronto, but won the game to ensure they didn't drop under .500.

"There is certainly pressure,'' said Als defensive lineman Ed Phillion before that game.

"If you don't win football games, they'll try to find people that do. It's no fun around here when you're losing.''

There's certainly been the suggestion that there's been something missing with the Als this year.

Montreal is the team Edmonton has struggled against the most so far in the new millennium.

While they're 1-1 in Grey Cup games since Don Matthews's departure from Edmonton and re-emergence in Montreal, the Als have won five of seven games against the Eskimos, including coming from behind 14-0 in Danny Maciocia's coaching debut in his old home town to win 32-29 this year.

Quarterback Ricky Ray, with the loss Saturday to Toronto, has now lost four of 23 games at Commonwealth Stadium. Three have been to the Als. One was the 2002 Grey Cup game.

Montreal-Edmonton is, arguably, the best East-West rivalry in the CFL.

Hamilton-Winnipeg has always been an East-West rivalry dating back to the days of Bud Grant. But two weeks ago they played each other in the 'Toilet Bowl.' The one East-West match-up that seems to hold-up is Edmonton and Montreal.

The Als and Esks have always had something going back to Edmonton winning three straight Grey Cups over the Als in the '50s. They were at it again against each other in the '70s. While neither club made it to the final last year, the previous two seasons featured Edmonton-Montreal Grey Cup games. In fact, of the 13 Grey Cups the Alouettes have played, 10 have been against Edmonton.

"Maybe for some fans it goes back to '54, '55, '56, but for me it goes back to '77,'' says Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia, an Alouette fan in Montreal at the time.

"That was the game with all the controversy, the legendary 'Staples' game,'' he said of the Ice Bowl in Olympic Stadium in Montreal, in which Tony Proudfoot and several Alouettes used construction staples in their shoes.

"There are still people around this organization who played in that game and were involved in that game, and they all say that what happened in that game was a major reason that Eskimo team went on to win five in a row, including beating the Alouettes twice to get it going.

"Then there's all the recent stuff. Don Matthews was here and then went there. I was there and I came here. Mike Pringle was there and came here. Terry Vaughn was here and then went there. There are a lot of players around here who were there,'' he said of the likes of Davis Sanchez, Tim Fleiszer, William Loftus, Kelly Wiltshire, Kevin Lefsrud, Bruce Beaton and Steve Charbonneau.

There are also the Quebec-connection players like Mathieu Bertrand.

The Eskimos, over the years, have held the upper hand, going 32-17-2 all time in regular-season games against Montreal CFL opposition. But you have to go back to 1997 for a year when the Eskimos won both games against the Als the same season. And it's not going to happen this year.


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