West final phenomenon

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

MONTREAL -- At least they seem open to the concept.

The first thing you see when you enter the baggage claim area of the airport is Ricky Ray.

"Bienvenue a la Coupe Grey," is emblazoned on the pillar with the larger-than-life picture of the Edmonton Eskimos quarterback.

PARTY CROWDS

Down on Crescent Street, pub owners claim to be cheering for an Edmonton-Calgary Grey Cup game here because previous experience has told them they're the two best party crowds in the league and they have the most famous party street in Canada.

"I'd love to have an Edmonton-Calgary Grey Cup. You know why? Because I'm selfish," said Ziggy Eichenbaum, owner of Ziggy's.

"The last time the Grey Cup was here, it was better than the Grand Prix. The Grey Cup crowd were the best drinkers, good tippers, real friendly and all out to just have a lot of fun. I loved those guys in the white hats and cowboy boots we had in here the last time. It would be crazy to have them and the Edmonton fans together."

It's just a little bit different trying to take the temperature of the town going into an East final against a team that had to fly 2,971 km to get here yesterday.

"I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later," said Pierre Vercheval, the ex-Eskimo and former Alouette who is a colour commentator for RDS. "I'm sure people would prefer to be playing Hamilton or Toronto," he said of the two out-of-the-playoff teams who combined to lose 17 of their last 18 games to give the Eskimos the chance to become the first crossover team to win an East Division playoff game. Now Edmonton has a chance to become the first crossover team to make it to the Grey Cup.

Montrealers, Vercheval says, don't have their shorts in a knot about having to beat the team that has beat the Als in eight of 11 Grey Cup match-ups of the 14 in which Montreal has been involved.

"There's a lot of cautious optimism of the Als getting to the Grey Cup. At the beginning of the season, expectations were low. Then they were really high. Lately they've tapered off but only a bit because the fans didn't like the way the team played at the end of the season, that the defence has given up a lot of points lately and that Anthony Calvillo hasn't played for three weeks," he says.

Overall, the expectations are that their Alouettes will be there. And the populace definitely doesn't have the heebie-jeebies like the fans from a West final host city where the Grey Cup was being held a week later.

Nobody in Montreal is talking about the Great Grey Cup Host Jinx basically because they've never heard of it. Even most of the players haven't heard of it.

Als quarterback Calvillo clearly didn't have a clue what I was talking about when I brought it up.

"News to me," he said.

It keeps happening, Grey Cup hosts losing the final at home and the victors moving into their dressing room for the big week. The thing is, however, it's been pretty much a West final phenomenon.

While it happened last year when Winnipeg beat the Argos in Toronto in the East final, the rest of the jinx games have involved the three other teams remaining alive in the playoffs not named Alouettes.

The failures in a final featuring Grey Cup hosts have been the B.C. Lions in 2005, Calgary in 2000, Edmonton in 1997, Calgary in 1993 and B.C. in 1987. The Eskimos were bounced from the 1997 Edmonton Grey Cup but took over host-team dressing rooms and went on to win the Grey Cup in three of the others. Edmonton fans know all about the jinx out west.

"When it comes to any jinx, there's no reason to talk about it around here," said offensive lineman Scott Flory.

'REAL SPECIAL'

"What we're talking about is an opportunity we have here that's real special. When you have an opportunity like this, to get to a Grey Cup in your own city, you don't take anything for granted. You want to be ready for every snap and every play," he added.

"We're working too hard to be philosophizing about anything," said receiver Ben Cahoon. "It's not a topic of conversation. Absolutely not."

Centre Bryan Chiu says nobody has made mention of it, but adds there is a sense of urgency with some guys like Calvillo, Cahoon, Flory and himself.

"Every year, there's a little more urgency. I'm not getting any younger. There are a lot of other guys here in the same boat," he said of the core group that has been to five Grey Cups together and only won one - the 2002 Grey Cup game in Edmonton. The Eskimos have won two against Montreal since that time.

But this is the East final. There's no history here.


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