November 12, 2011

Stephen: The revival of a provincial rivalry

Mark Stephen

In theory, it never went away. We’re talking about the Battle of Alberta. How could it go away when the two stadiums rest just about 300 kilometers apart? And given the long history of animosity between the teams, it would be impossible to completely dismiss the rivalry all together.

Despite the geographical conveniences, the hype surrounding the Battle of Alberta has cooled off in recent years. Much of that has to do with the fact that the teams generally weren’t as strong at the same time.

When the Eskimos won the Grey Cup in 2003, the Stamps missed the playoffs. Then it was the Eskimos’ turn at missing the post-season while the Stampeders roared back to glory.

Over the last few years, the Saskatchewan Roughriders usurped their way into the rivalry they clashed with the Stamps on four different occasions during the playoffs. 

That string of games included back-to-back Western Finals.

This season however paints a different picture. Both clubs had successful seasons, paving the way for them to meet in the Western Semi-Final tomorrow at Commonwealth.

They finished with identical 11-7 records, but the Eskimos earned home-field by capturing the season series.

So did the rivalry ever go away?

“It’s always a good game, it’s always battle, it’s always a good crowd and a good showing there,” said veteran receiver Ken-Yon Rambo, who appeared in his first CFL playoff game against the Eskimos in the 2005 West Semi-Final.

“Coach Kavis, he’s done a great job with them and he’s got everyone in tune with their philosophy.”

Stampeders punter Burke Dales agrees that the rivalry with Edmonton has returned, but it is part of a competitive west.

“There are some great rivalries this year. We’ve created one with BC, we’ve got one with Edmonton and, of course, with Saskatchewan,” noted the Western All-Star punter.

Rivalry or not, the game will mark the first playoff start for Calgary quarterback Drew Tate.  If the pressure is building, he is doing a good job of avoiding it.

“No extra pressure,” he said after a practice this week at McMahon Stadium.

“Still three downs, twelve guys and we can’t turn the ball over. That’s all.”

Calgary head coach John Hufnagel was also trying to keep a lid on the pre-game hype.

“I don’t know  if he spent more time at home (preparing), but I am sure he put in the time necessary to prepare to play.”

“I really don’t believe there is more pressure that in the first game he started which was a short three weeks ago. There’s pressure on everyone. That’s the game. He’s demonstrated he handles pressure situations fine.”

One reason for Hufnagel’s and Tate’s calm demeanor might be the fact receiver Nik Lewis is going to be available in Edmonton. 

The eight-year receiver had limited practice during the week but was later pronounced ready. Linebacker Malik Jackson is expected to return to the Calgary lineup as well. 

He has been on the sidelines since Oct. 1, but with a season-ending injury to linebacker Sean Ware, Jackson will draw back on the roster.

This game is the first time Calgary has traveled to Edmonton for a Semi-Final game since 1987.  The Stampeders have played in Edmonton in Western Finals (1991, 2001), but not in the first round of the playoffs in twenty-four years. Their last two playoff meetings, 2005 and 2009, took place in Calgary.