September 1, 2011

Billboard at McMahon fires up Battle of Alberta


CALGARY — The Edmonton Eskimos have fired a cheeky shot across the bow of the Calgary Stampeders ahead of Monday’s Labour Day game between the two clubs.

The Eskimos bought add space on a billboard at a McMahon Stadium parking lot. The billboard depicts an Edmonton Eskimo fan riding astride a Calgary Stampeder fan like a horse.

“EE-Hawwww! See you Monday Stamps fans,” it says with the words “No Stampeder fans were (physically) harmed in the making of this billboard” in smaller type across the bottom.

The billboard and its location on the Stampeders’ doorstep are an audacious salvo from the Eskimos (5-3), who are chasing the Stampeders (6-2) for the CFL’s West Division lead. Edmonton has lost three games in a row, while the Stamps are winners of four straight.

The Eskimos’ billboard is seen at a McMahon Stadium parking lot. “We just wanted to have a little bit of fun and that’s what it was all intended to do,” said Duane Vienneau, VP of Marketing for the Eskimos.

But the Eskimos vice-president of marketing says the billboard is about just that – marketing – and not a comment about on-field performance.

“We just wanted to have a little bit of fun and that’s what it was all intended to do,” Duane Vienneau said from Edmonton. “We wanted to make sure that this wasn’t a football thing. Our general manager and coaches didn’t know about this.

“We were very cautious to make sure this wasn’t a picture of a player. It was all about the fans. It was about ‘hey, we’re coming to the game.'”

The Saskatchewan Roughriders have posted billboards with similar themes in opposing cities to attract the Saskatchewan fans to game in those markets.

The Esks retaliated last year when Saskatchewan was in town with one that said “They can’t count to 13 at Grey Cups. We have 13 Grey Cups and counting.” That was a comment at the too-many-men penalty that cost Saskatchewan the 2009 Grey Cup.

While the billboard in Calgary faces south in a parking lot next to busy Crowchild Trail, it isn’t easily visible to drivers heading northbound.

But planting it there indicates the Eskimos organization feels bold enough to ramp up the CFL’s Battle of Alberta again. The Eskimos missed the playoffs last season with a 7-11 record while Calgary went 13-5.

Each team has won in the other’s stadium in two meetings this season. Calgary hosts the Eskimos on Monday before heading to Edmonton four days later.

The Stampeders marketing department countered Thursday with a newspaper ad featuring a variation on a popular credit card marketing campaign. It said “Billboard at McMahon, $5,000; Ticket to the Labour Day Classic, $39; Putting your foot in your mouth: Priceless.”

The Stampeders were mildly amused by the billboard and even if they were annoyed, they weren’t about to show the Eskimos were getting under their skin ahead of an important game.

“You can’t miss it. It’s pretty entertaining,” defensive lineman DeVone Claybrooks said.

“It’s probably reverse psychology. They’re the ones who are in the slump and we’re the ones riding a wave right now. It probably adds motivation for them as well. If your dad says ‘my son’s going to kick your tail’ then the son has to back it up.”

Calgary’s quarterback is more motivated by Edmonton’s 24-19 win over the Stamps at home July 23 than the billboard.

“It’s going to be a big-time fight out here,” Henry Burris said. “It’s about time the Battle of Alberta is back to this level where both teams are battling for first place now like it used to be in the ’90s.

“The trash talking has begun with the billboard, but I know for us in this locker room, it all started when we lost this game to them a number of weeks ago. It’s still burning in our minds.”