Crossover Mission: Impossible? Not for the Eskimos, according to head coach Maas
Move over, Tom Cruise, the Edmonton Eskimos are undertaking their own Mission: Impossible.
Their mission, should they choose to accept it after reaching the post-season as the crossover team for the fourth time in club history: To do the one thing no Canadian Football League team has done since the inception of the current playoff format and reach the Grey Cup via the other division.
Of the 11 previous times teams have tried, all have failed, with no East Division team ever even qualifying to cross over the other way.
Edmonton’s come the closest most often to representing the East Division in the Grey Cup, reaching that division’s final twice out of the four times a West team has made it that far.
But it remains an elusive, pigskin-covered unicorn of the CFL.
“We talked about his in our room: When something’s never been done before, everyone thinks it’s impossible,” said Eskimos head coach Jason Maas. “When you’re 0-11, they think it’s impossible and you can’t argue with them because it’s never been done. “When I got to the league in 2000, there had been four other teams that tried to win a semifinal game that had never been done. They all said it was impossible to do that too. And then, lo-and behold, we went in in ’08 and won a game. And then, all of a sudden, a couple of other teams won.
“So there’s always got to be a first, and one out of 11 is nine per cent. So, nine per cent doesn’t seem like too much but when you’re talking about zero per cent, that it’s been, it seems impossible. At the end of the day, someone’s going to do it and why not us?”
In 2008, the Eskimos became the first West Division team to win an East Division semifinal when they beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Back then, Maas was still a quarterback on the team he became the head coach of in 2016, which was the second time the Eskimos earned an appearance in the East final, giving them a CFL-best 2-1 record in the semifinal crossover round.
“When I was here, we played Winnipeg in the first round and beat them and then went in to play the East final against Montreal in ’08 and got beat,” he recalled the 36-26 loss to the Alouettes on Nov. 14, 2008. “I think there was a couple return touchdowns on either side. They were a very good team and I thought we were too, it was just one of those hard-fought battles and I think it was a pretty close game through three quarters.
“And in the fourth quarter, they pulled away a bit. But it was one of those games where we were pretty close. I’ve been a part of a couple crossover teams I felt had a chance and I feel like this team does as well.”
Up to that point, the previous four crossover teams were all one and done in the semifinal round.
And now, for the fourth consecutive year, a West Division team is claiming the crossover spot after finishing with more points than the third-place East Division team.
With the East-bumping scenario becoming more of the rule than an exception, you’d have to expect sooner or later the math will catch up and something’s got to give.
The Eskimos are hoping the fourth time’s a charm after beating Winnipeg in 2008, losing to the Toronto Argonauts in 2012 and defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2016.
But this one involves the ol’ unstoppable-force-versus-immovable-object adage.
Any team Maas has been a part of, whether playing on or coaching, has never lost a crossover semifinal, even when he was receivers coach with the Argos in 2012.
Montreal, meanwhile, is a perfect 3-0 when facing a crossover team and enters the post-season having earned their first winning record since quarterback Anthony Calvillo played his final full season in 2012.
But the Ghosts of Crossover Past aren’t exactly at the forefront of the Eskimos’ collective mind as they get set for Sunday’s showdown at Percival Molson Stadium.
“Ultimately, they’re excited about the journey we’re about to be on,” Maas said. “That’s what our focus is on. So it’s on us, as it has been all year. We’re going to embark on something and try to do something that’s never been accomplished before in the history of the CFL.
“So our guys are excited about that.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge