- Free Agency
The year was 2004.
Fans of the Edmonton Eskimos need no explanation of the significance of that year.
2004 was the last time the Green and Gold hosted a playoff from Commonwealth Stadium. It was the Western Semi-Final and it wasn’t a good experience for the Eskimos.
With Jason Maas starting under centre, the Eskimos lost 14-6 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The game also proved to be Terry Vaughn’s last with the team.
It was Tom Higgins’ last game as head coach, and it would be the start of a long drought in Edmonton -no playoff football at Commonwealth Stadium for seven years.
Okay, the 2010 Grey Cup was played at Commonwealth Stadium but the park was filled with Green and White fans.
Riders fans might be snickering a little bit as they had to wait 19 years for a home , but this is Edmonton, you know ,The City of Champions.
Yeah, not much winning has happened in Edmonton for quite a while. The last time they were able to call themselves champions was in 2005, when the Eskimos had to win all of their games on the road that to win the Grey Cup.
When Eric Tillman was hired as General Manager in September of 2010, one of his organizational goals was to give Eskimos fans playoff football at Commonwealth Stadium.
Head coach Kavis Reed is the man who led the charge, instilling the values of Eskimos football of commitment, dedication, intensity, and to be a professional in the community.
Reed expressed the importance of clinching a home game before the Eskimos played the Riders last Friday saying it was almost a given in Edmonton.
During the Eskimos’ North American sports record streak of 34 consecutive years in the playoffs, the team hosted a playoff game 28 times.
Their longest streak without a home game was during a stretch of five years in the 1980s when the team was coming off the glory of a dynasty.
The team sealed the deal last Friday with a 23-20 win over the Riders. After the game, Reed paid tribute to his team and their road travelled this season.
“I want to tell you that I am extremely proud of you,” he said during his post-game locker room speech.
“All year, this football team and I emphasize the word team, this team fought the odds and fought adversity. You truly stuck together, and you played for each other. Back with home playoff, that’s what the Eskimos are about.”
So, here we are. It’s Semi-Final Sunday and the Eskimos will host the Calgary Stampeders. These two teams have met numerous times in the Western Final, but this is only the fourth meeting between the Eskimos and Stampeders since 1987. Ironically, 1987 is the last time the Eskimos hosted the Stampeders in the West Semi-Final.
The Eskimos took two of three from the Stampeders this season, winning in Calgary twice in early July and on Labour Day. Their loss came in the Labour Day rematch.
What’s interesting is that the road team won all three meetings. What’s even more interesting is who will be at quarterback for the Stampeders.
Drew Tate is now at the controls and will face an Eskimos defence that surrendered the least amount of points in the regular season and the lowest points per game as well.
Both teams are coming in with some momentum; the Eskimos are winners of four of their last five games while the Stampeders have won three-straight games, all with Tate at the helm.
Tate will play in his first playoff game tomorrow while veteran Ricky Ray will play in the 11th CFL post-season game of his career.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The game features the two best Canadian running backs in Jerome Messam and Jon Cornish and both sides have very stingy defenses.
For the Eskimos to be successful, they need to get back to a balanced offence.
Their running attack has disappeared in the last two games and the offensive line needs to give Ray time. Their return game has to show up and they need Damon Duval to be clutch in field goals.
The defence needs to contain Cornish and force an inexperienced quarterback to make some mistakes.
It’s playoff time; kiss goodbye your margin of error because it’s down to zero.
NOTES: Jerome Messam has been battling a lower-body injury but is expected to play today. Linebacker J.C. Sherritt is a game-time decision with a broken finger which is encased inside a cast, Sherritt is also dealing with a hurt ankle. Offensive lineman Greg Wojt is doubtful with an ankle injury,