September 6, 2006

Esks’ away record ultimate road horror story

Edmonton is winless in six games as the visiting team this season

By Scott Petersen,
Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON – Charles Alston’s high school basketball team, and later their bus, were once pelted with thick glass bottles after winning on a rival’s court.

In the NFL, Trevor Gaylor found out quickly why helmets were mandatory while entering and exiting the field in Oakland. Raiders fans live to throw verbal barbs and plastic cups at visiting players to try and get inside their heads.

Those are two of many stories inside the Edmonton Eskimos’ locker-room of road trips gone bad.

But going 0-5 away from home near the midpoint of a tumultuous season may be the ultimate road horror story for the current group as they continued to dig a hole into the CFL basement with Monday’s loss in Calgary.

To put it in perspective, even the woeful Hamilton Tiger-Cats have won a road game this season.

“It’s just one of those tough things,” said Alston, a defensive end. “You have to learn how to win road games. It’s tough to win on the road. No matter how good the team is, it’s still tough to go into someone else’s house and win.”

The Eskimos are 3-2 on the home turf at Commonwealth Stadium and would be 4-1 if they could’ve stopped a 100-yard touchdown pass with no time on the clock against Winnipeg. Still, that record sits in the middle of the pack.

But every time they get on a bus or plane, whether the trip be to B.C., Calgary or Winnipeg, the result has been a loss. They’ve been blown out in three of those games and made costly late mistakes in the other two. If you include the pre-season loss in Saskatchewan, they’re 0-6 on the road.

The players find that inexplicable, no matter how rowdy or hostile another team’s home environment may be.

“Besides the crowd noise, there’s no difference,” said kick returner Tony Tompkins. “It’s a football field, you know. Everybody here has been playing football for a long time, so just go out there and play just as if you were playing at home.”

Fans can, and will, be nasty if a player chooses to listen. They can feed the home team’s adrenaline if they’re not taken out of the game early. They can create all sorts of noise when the visiting offence is in the huddle or about to snap, but the Eskimos prepare for that with their own white noise and hand signals in practices.

But fans can’t play and win the game. That comes down to the players and coaching staffs, and so far this season, the Eskimos have been a consistent two points for their opponents away from home.

“It can be (psychological) for a lot of people,” said defensive lineman Antico Dalton. “Some people take the approach that you’re going into someone else’s backyard, so it’s going to be a dogfight. I just take the same approach as every game, that it’s my last and I’ll play as hard as I can.”

Alston actually likes playing on the road for the way it brings the team together. It messes with some players’ comfort zones of sleeping in the same bed and having the same routine, but it makes them interact with each other and draw closer.

That camaraderie just hasn’t yet resulted in wins. He’s hoping that changes fast with four important road games still remaining on the schedule.