When the CFL schedule is released in the dead of winter in Edmonton, it’s always met with great anticipation by Eskimos fans.
Fans make their holiday summer plans around the Eskimos schedule, some love to travel and follow the team on the road. No matter what the schedule looks like, you know there is one constant, Labour Day.
Like college football in the United States, Labour Day represents the rivalry between the Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders.
The Labour Day Classic began on September 5th, 1949 with the Stampeders coming out of top 20-6 over the Eskimos in Edmonton. That’s right, the first five games of the Labour Day Classic were played in Edmonton.
The remaining 47 have all been played in Calgary. There was no Labour Day Classic from 1954-1958, from 1964-1967, 1973, and 1981. The Eskimos hold an all-time Labour Day record of 29-22-1. Yes, there has been a tie, 28-28 in 1978. Their last win came two years ago, 35-7 win. The Eskimos have only three wins in their last nine Labour Day games.
Labour Day has always been the point in the CFL season where the magnitude of the games really ramp up. It’s where teams look to establish first place in their division, a home playoff, or survival to capture the remaining playoff spot.
No matter what the record is between the two teams, winning Labour Day means bragging rights. The Eskimos back in 2003 finished the regular season with a 13-5 record and won the Grey Cup. They lost on Labour Day however 28-23 to the Stampeders who finished 5-13 that season. They won bragging rights because they won the biggest regular season game on the schedule.
There have been many classic moments on Labour Day for the Eskimos in recent memory, to go over all of them would mean more print space than this website can handle. Here are some of the more memorable games in recent history.
Sept 5, 2005: Eskimos 25, Stampeders 23
This year was the last time the Eskimos hoisted the Grey Cup. It was the year that marked the return of Ricky Ray from his NFL stint, it was also the first season for Danny Maciocia as head coach as he faced his former boss, Tom Higgins.
The score leads you to believe that the game was close throughout. Not so, as the Eskimos built up a 20-1 half-time lead before the Stampeders led by Henry Burris led his team a furious comeback. The game would come down to the final moments. The Stampeders scored a late touchdown and were lining up for the two-point convert to tie the game and send it to overtime. Henry Burris would take a time-count violation. On the next play, Burris scrambled looking for an open receiver when defensive tackle Cedric Scott tracked him down from the backside and sacked the Stampeders quarterback. Game over.
Sept 3, 2001: Eskimos 34, Stampeders 33
A very tough year for the Eskimos and the rest of the Western Division as Edmonton would finish first with a 9-9 record. A new quarterback was on the scene in the fiery Jason Maas. He would lead the Eskimos on a thrilling final drive which included key runs for first downs by Maas to set-up kicker Sean Fleming for the winning points.
Sept 6, 1999: Eskimos 33, Stampeders 30 (OT)
One of the worst seasons in Eskimos history, they finished with a 6-12 record. They beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders four times which helped them make the playoffs in the Western Division. Their other two wins came in B.C. Place Stadium and in McMahon Stadium on Labour Day. The scrappy bunch of Eskimos would force overtime against a team that would make the Grey Cup game that year. The Stampeders drove down to the Eskimos one yard line but the green and gold defense would stuff Dave Dickenson and the Stamps on third and goal securing the win and a massive upset.
Fast forwarding to the 2013 and the matchup on paper doesn’t look very sexy. But no matter what the records are, everybody gets fired up for Labour Day.
NOTES: Running back Hugh Charles will miss the Labour Day Classic with a leg injury suffered late in the Eskimos loss to Saskatchewan. John White will make his first CFL start, in seven games White has 21 carries for 66 yards. Middle linebacker J.C. Sherritt will be held out still recovering from a broken thumb, he should be ready for the rematch game. Defensive end Odell Willis is questionable with a left arm injury.
Dave Campbell has been on the Eskimos beat since 2004. He’s entering his seventh season as the Eskimo colour analyst for 630 CHED broadcasts. He also hosts The Points After Show, an openline post-game show. Follow Dave on Twitter @Dave_CHED.