August 29, 2014

Stephen: A return to the Labour Day Classic

Canadian Press

Finally a Labour Day Classic that may live up to all the pre-game hype.

The teams with the two best records line up to play each other on Labour Day Monday with bragging rights for the league’s top record on the line. But that is only the beginning of the drama accompanying the game.

There is the long-standing, but recently dormant, rivalry between the teams.

Then there is the tension in the air from the first meeting this year in Edmonton. The Stampeders won that game in Week 5, but Eskimo players remember Stamps playesr provocatively gesturing at Edmonton coach Chris Jones’s motorcycle.

Then there is the fact Jones is a former Stampeders assistant who brought in many of the key contributors on the Calgary defence. The elements are there for a memorable afternoon.

And a memorable afternoon is exactly what Calgary receiver Maurice Price intends to deliver on Monday. Last year, he stole the show in a Stampeders win on Labour Day. He racked up 165 yards on five receptions, including three touchdowns.

“It was one to remember,” said Price who will be making his first appearance since Opening Day. “I remember it. I’m looking to try and repeat that effort. But it’s about making plays and being consistent.”

Price played in Calgary’s first game, but suffered a broken hand on a fall away from the play. He mentions the absence has been hard to take.

“I’m finally getting a chance to contribute again, after being out for so long,” smiled Price, “I’m excited to be out there and just do my thing.”

There is probably a little more at stake on Labour Day for the Eskimos. A Calgary win would clinch the season series involving the provincial rivals. Given the strong probability of tie-breakers being required in the West, owning the season series could be a huge advantage for the Stampeders. Also of note is the fact that Calgary has defeated Edmonton in their last eight consecutive regular season meetings. The Eskimos need to find a way to beat the Stampeders if they are to jump up the standings even further.

The magnitude of the game is not lost on Jon Cornish. The reigning Canadian Football League Most Outstanding Player is aware of what is at stake.

“It’s very rare that you get two 7-and-1 teams play each other,” said Cornish after a Calgary practice, “for that reason the fans, they’re going to be ready for a huge game.”

Cornish is accurate when he says it’s rare to see a 7-1 matchup, especially on Labour Day. When Calgary and Edmonton hit the gridiron on Monday, their combined mark of 14-2 will be the best record that the two clubs have accumulated for in the annual contest.

Cornish made his return to the Calgary line up last week in Ottawa and rushed for 74 yards on 16 carries.

But maybe the best expression of excitement on the game was articulated by Calgary coach John Hufnagel.

On his weekly Calgary radio show, he challenged Stampeder fans “to come out and be loud.”

All the ingredients are there for an explosive afternoon: a battle for top spot, the long-standing animosity between the two sides, and a few stinging social media shots. Throw in what is sure to be a large crowd and McMahon Stadium turns into a powder keg filled to the brim. Kickoff will provide the spark and the crowd will surely answer the coach’s challenge with a boom.