CALGARY -- The Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders meet at McMahon Stadium looking for two important points on Monday afternoon, as bitter rivals clash in this year’s annual Labour Day Classic.
One team is making a push for top spot in the West Division, while the other is battling just to get its season back on the right track – yet when it comes to Labour Day, the odds are you’d never know which team is which.
With the ever-increasing focus on the standings and potential playoff races as the season progresses, this is the one day where you can throw out everything you know about either of these teams before the opening kickoff.
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“We don’t play on paper and I don’t think any of us read the paper to prepare for games, or to determine the climate of how we should feel on game day,” 37-year-old Randy Chevrier told Stampeders.com.
The non-import defensive tackle has been a Stampeder since 2005, and before then even suited up for Calgary’s Alberta counterpart. To Chevrier, it doesn’t matter whether the Esks are winless or undefeated.
“There are enough of us here that have played this game over a number of years that we know the type of intensity they’re going to bring,” he continued. They’ll come here and they’re ready to put a beating on us and we’re ready to put a beating on them.”
It’s that combination of uncertainty and a desire to win at any given cost that makes this time of year so exciting for anyone who’s been lucky enough to experience it – even for a veteran quarterback like Kevin Glenn, who’s suited up in Labour Day Classics with three different teams.
“No, I don’t think so,” the former Blue Bomber and Tiger-Cat said when asked if it ever gets old. “Just because of the atmosphere and how everybody plays this thing up”.
“It’s still the excitement, it’s a big game, it’s kind of the midway point of the season and I don’t ever get tired of it. I’ve played in every last one so that’s kind of telling my age, I’m still a young guy but I’ve enjoyed all of them, I’ve enjoyed them all and the biggest thing is the atmosphere, it’s so much played up.”
At 34 and playing some of the best football of his career, Glenn figures to be one of the most important characters of the upcoming back-to-back games, which conclude on Friday with a return trip to Edmonton.
Glenn has led the Stamps to wins in 14 of his 20 starts since joining the Stampeders at the start of 2012, and has now gone three straight games and 111 pass attempts without throwing an interception.
He signed here of course to be a backup, but with starter Drew Tate struggling to stay on the field, this was Glenn’s team that made an impressive run to the 100th Grey Cup Championship in 2012, and his team that currently sits 6-2 and just a game out of top spot in the West Division in 2013.
Just last week, Glenn led the Stamps to one of their most impressive outings of the season, a 35-14 win on the road over the very same Toronto Argonauts they lost to in last year’s Grey Cup.
Now with back-to-back games against a hated rival over a span of just five days, Glenn knows it’ll be his job to keep his team focused on the task at hand – regardless of the fact that Edmonton currently sits at the bottom of the West Division standings.
“Their record is no indication of what type of team they are, and I think we’ve expressed that and we understand it and we know,” said Glenn.
Chevrier agreed, pointing out that in the past, the records have shown no indication of how the actual games play out.
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“It doesn’t matter if they hadn’t won a game this year, it doesn’t matter if they hadn’t won a game in 10 years,” said the McGill University alumnus. “I don’t know what their record was going into the game last year, yet the Labour Day game and the Labour Day rematch, we were on the final play of the game to determine the winner.”
In fact, the results of last season’s home and home turned out to be far more indicative of what was to come, rather than how things had gone up to that point.
Heading into this week of last season the Eskimos at 5-3 held a slight edge in the standings over the 4-4 Stampeders. In typical Labour Day fashion, the Stampeders pulled out a thrilling 31-30 win that went right down to the wire – a result that became a major turning point for each team.
The Stampeders turned that win into a four-game winning streak, and now in their previous 18 games have a league-best 14-4 record. The Eskimos, meanwhile, have gone 3-15 over that span.
In terms of their records this season the tables have seemingly turned, and this time the Eskimos will be the ones hoping back-to-back wins can get them on an unstoppable roll.
“I think we’re at that stage where two points are two points, and that was the topic of conversation today,” said Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed, now in his third season at the helm of the Double E.
“Albeit this is a rivalry game, albeit this is the Battle of Alberta – we’re not trying to downplay that – but we’re at the stage where two points are two points. This is another opportunity for us to earn two points, and if we were to earn two points against a very good football team obviously it could be a crescendo in our season.”
Given the play of Reed’s team recently, it wouldn’t come as any kind of shock for the Eskimos to storm out and win on Labour Day and make a charge in the second half of the season – despite sitting mired in a six-game losing streak.
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“This club and this locker-room is still very tight-knit, we’ve still got faith in ourselves and each other and in our staff and it’ll continue to be that way,” said quarterback Mike Reilly of his team’s resiliency, despite the fact that things haven’t gone their way.
“These guys are great character guys and they come into work every single day and put in a hard day of work, and that will never change,” he continued. “As long as the guys in this locker-room are still on this team I have faith that every single day we’re going to come in to work.”
The Eskimos have boasted the league’s most impressive offence over the last three of thoselosses, averaging 444 net yards per game and perhaps more impressively 376 passing yards per game.
A lot of that has been a result of the emergence of Reilly, who in his first season as a full-time starter continues to show rapid progression in his play on the field as well as in his leadership off it.
Now the talented young pivot will get a chance to really make his mark, as he gets his first glimpse of the Battle of Alberta.
“It’s something that every year when I was in BC we would hear about, we would see it on TV, but you don’t really understand what the big deal is until you’re part of it,” said Reilly, who spent three years in BC under the tutelage of former Most Outstanding Player Travis Lulay. “I’m excited to go out there and play these next two games against them.”
“The week of preparation, it’s one of those things even during training camp guys talk about this weekend and these two games. It’s finally here, it’s finally on us and with our record being what it is it puts that much importance on us going out and getting a win.”
If the Eskimos are going to do just that, you can be sure it won’t be by surprise. As Chevrier points out, the Stamps are preparing for Monday’s clash as though it’s against a first-place team.
“Records, you throw all that out the door,” he said.
“It’s not a cliché, we’re not convincing ourselves of that, that’s the truth – in a game like this, in fact in the whole CFL you always have to throw the record out because everyone wants to win in such a small league.”
Kickoff is at 5:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Stampeders.com/Esks.com