Edmonton Eskimos kicking off budding rivalry with B.C. Lioins
DeVone Claybrooks is certainly no stranger to rivalry football games played at Commonwealth Stadium.
The long-time defensive line coach and co-ordinator on the other side of the Battle of Alberta has moved on from a Calgary Stampeders organization that is the provincial rivals of the Edmonton Eskimos, to face them for the first time in his new role as head coach of the B.C Lions.
And, considering the Lions den currently includes 13 former Eskimos players, including quarterback Mike Reilly, as well as his offensive co-ordinator here, Jarious Jackson, former Eskimos championship-receiver-turned-general manager Ed Hervey and even ex-Eskimos president Rick Lelacheur, blood ties may very well run deeper out west at this point than they do to the south.
So, has Claybrooks jumped from a provincial rivalry with the Eskimos and landed straight into a new blood feud?
“I would say that any team in the West is a rivalry, in a sense, because it’s going to be such a dogfight and every week you’re going to get a team’s best effort,” said the 41-year-old former defensive tackle, who won a Super Bowl with the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, before adding two Grey Cups as a coach with the Stampeders. “So you’ve just got to make sure that you come out and be mentally in every game. If we’re able to do that, then whatever is going to happen, happens. We’ll let the cards fall where they may at that point.”
Cards fall … helmets fly … however you want to describe it, anything seemed fair game over the years when it came to the annual Labour Day series between Edmonton and Calgary.
But seeing as how that Alberta rivalry has become absurdly lopsided in favour of the south since the John Hufnagel Era began in 2008, perhaps it’s only fitting a new type of rivalry has begun working its way into the hearts and minds of Eskimos players and fans.
Familiarity breeds contempt, after all.
“It’s just one of those things where we have a good familiarity with their guys, their personnel and that’s from the scouting department to GM to players, there’s a lot of familiar faces,” said Eskimos quarterback Jason Maas. “For us, they’re all faceless and we talked about it this week, ‘We’re just facing the B.C. Lions and we’re going to go out and play our brand of football here.’
“Any time you’re playing in the West, it’s already a big rivalry anyways. We know what’s at stake, you’ve got to win your games at home. But B.C.’s been one of those teams, with the amount of players that are on their team, yeah, it becomes one of those things where it becomes a more emotional game for some people. But I think football’s played with emotion.”
THE EDMONTON GREEN-GOLDS?
Of course, while the Eskimos lost a large crew to the west coast, they pulled just as significantly from the Ottawa Redblacks, where Edmonton’s current general manager spent four seasons as the assistant GM under Marcel Desjardins.
A dozen former Redblacks are currently with the Eskimos.
So, which of the budding rivalries will take precedence this season?
“Man, ask me after a couple games,” said receiver Greg Ellingson, who was part of an offensive trio of big-name Redblacks to come to Edmonton in off-season free agency, including quarterback Trevor Harris. “You can really tell when you get on the field and you see those familiar faces and you really battle.
“If it’s a blowout, it’s not a huge rivalry that year. But if you have those crunch-time games and our defence seems like they’re going to go out there and bang and be physical, when you have games like that and you have to grind to get the victories, those are the games that really show when it’s a real rivalry.”
ROOM FOR ONE MORE?
All three opponents certainly have a rivalry claim.
“It’s kind of crazy when you look at it that way,” said Eskimos pass rusher Alex Bazzie, himself a former Lions defensive end. “Half the team may say, ‘Oh, we’re Ottawa,’ while the other half might say B.C. And then you still have Calgary that’s always there. We all know Calgary, that’s not going anywhere.
“I think the actual teams where it started to become a battle against is moreso, I would say, B.C. and Winnipeg, outside of Calgary.”
Wait a minute, the Blue Bombers have entered the mix now?
“If we put all the pieces together, all this comes down to Edmonton and B.C. or Edmonton and Winnipeg, with those three teams always being in the mix and always fighting and having a grudge with this and that,” Bazzie said. “Last year, B.C. were the ones to knock us out of the playoffs, so there’s kind of a grudge there.
“Winnipeg came in late and even though we beat them, we felt like we should have been in one of those teams’ spots. So when you have that type of mindset going on, that’s where you pick your battle at.”
In and out: Montreal Alouettes QB Antonio Pipkin is expected to be out 4-6 weeks with a right leg injury sustained while being sacked by Eskimos DB Josh Johnson in last week’s season opener at Commonwealth Stadium.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge