Bombers vs. Esks: It's all about respect

KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:10 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Perhaps we should call this the Rodney Dangerfield Bowl.

Coming into the 2011 CFL season, not too many people were giving the Winnipeg Blue Bombers or Edmonton Eskimos much, if any, respect.

Most pundits had them both finishing in last place in their respective divisions — after 4-14 and 7-11 campaigns respectfully.

Instead, when the two teams battle it out at Canad Inns Stadium on Friday night, the 4-1 Blue Bombers and 5-0 Eskimos are both in first place.

“Excited? I don’t think that’s the word for it,” said Blue Bombers defensive end Odell Willis. “I mean, I can’t explain it. Best in the East, best in the West. The fireworks are coming (Friday) night. I don’t think it’s a statement game. We just want to come out and see who can be the best.

“They have the best offence, we have the best defence. We just want to see if we can come out on top.”

The Eskimos have the same thing on their collective minds.

“That’s the thing, you’ve got to earn your respect,” said Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray, who has thrown for 1,492 yards with 10 touchdowns and just one interception through five weeks. “It’s not something that’s on paper or you talk about. It’s about going out there and earning it. By doing that, you have to win football games. This is one of the bigger games of the year for us. Definitely, it’s going to be our biggest challenge.

“These are the fun games, when teams are playing well and you’re in first place and you’re trying to prove to everybody else that you’re the better team.”

Blue Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice got straight to the point when asked what the Eskimos are doing better this season compared with 2010.

“The quarterback play is much better than it was the previous year, they’re not turning the ball over, and they’re running the ball better,” said LaPolice. “Defensively, they’re not giving up as many big plays.”

Ray is enjoying a bounce-back season, but was quick to credit the Eskimos turnaround to new head coach Kavis Reed.

“He’s done a great job of making guys realize what it means to play in Edmonton and kind of changing the culture,” said Ray.

“He’s been in that locker room before so he brings credibility with that. He’s just done a good job of challenging the guys. He has good balance of being a player’s coach but also giving you a kick in the butt when you need it. He has a lot of emotion for the game. He knows how to push our buttons in the right way.”

When asked how he’s created a winning environment, Reed didn’t take any credit.

“Because I have great character players,” said Reed. “I’m blessed with a group of guys that are supreme characters. Those guys come to work every day prepared to work and wanting to work. That translates on the field.”


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