CFL Pass

JONES: Eskimos take first step on quest to make CFL history

MONTREAL — It’s one thing to convince yourself you can beat a 10-8 team that was just happy to be in the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

But when the Edmonton Eskimos woke up in their own beds Monday morning after flying home following their 37-29 win over the Montreal Alouettes in the crossover Eastern Semifinal here Sunday, the idea of what they had gone and done may have been a little sobering.

When the Eskimos fly back East to continue their ‘Why Not Us?’ quest to become the first team to come out of the West as a crossover club and make it to the Grey Cup, they’ll be facing an entirely different challenge.

Indeed, rise-to-the-occasion quarterback Trevor Harris identified that before he left Montreal Sunday evening.

“Obviously, it’s going to be no easy task. Coming into Montreal is a difficult place to play but when you’re going into The Hammer, you’re going where nobody has won this year.”

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, coming off their own 8-10 season last year, went a franchise best 15-3 this season.

The Tiger-Cats also went a perfect 9-0 at home, the first time Hamilton has gone undefeated at home since the league adopted the 18-game schedule.

However, all is not lost before they play the game.

As a public service, this column would like to inform Edmonton and the Eskimos that the best place to find belief at this stage of proceedings might be from their own history.

No team has won as many Grey Cups as Edmonton’s 14 since the Eskimos came into the league in 1949, but the so-called flagship franchise has also authored some of the most memorable and famous face-plants in CFL history.

If you’re looking for teams that had 15-3 types of seasons and flopped in the final, look no further than the Eskimo teams that recorded the greatest regular season runs of them all.

If you’d talked to any of the 1954-55-56 Grey Cup champions and asked them which season during their era they thought they had their best team, they’d all tell you it wasn’t 1954 or 1955 or 1956 but the year after the three-in-a-row run.

The 1957 Eskimos went 14-2 and scored 475 points and gave up a mere 142. And they lost the Western Final, then a best of three, to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

In 1989 Edmonton had an even more impressive run going 16-2 and scoring 644 points. But the Eskimos lost the Western Final to Saskatchewan. And the Grey Cup was in Edmonton that year. The Roughriders were back 48 hours later for Grey Cup week.

It CAN happen. It HAS happened.

I’m not sure you can find a team like the Eskimos who visited Hamilton as recently as Oct. 4 and lost by the considerable count of 42-12 to the Tiger-Cats, however. So there is that. On the other hand, there’s Harris who had arguably the greatest playoff game by a quarterback in CFL history against Hamilton last year and was in the zone again against Montreal. And he was injured and missed both Edmonton losses to Hamilton this season.

Still, it’s just a little tougher this week to sell ‘Why Not Us?’ and ‘We Believe’.

The Eskimos, as you might suspect, didn’t exactly open the week as betting favourites.

There was no betting line released as of early evening Monday, but the latest accompanying odds to win the Grey Cup on are Hamilton 7/4, Saskatchewan 5/2, Winnipeg 13/4 and Edmonton 15/4.

As we focus forward, it’ll be interesting to try figure out who the sentimental favourites might be.

With Winnipeg’s shocking 35-14 upset of the defending Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders in the Western Semifinal, add another team to swallow the olive and fail to get to the big game in the year the team was playing host to the show. And one doubts if the locals will be all that excited to welcome back Winnipeg after licking the Stamps like that.

You’d have to figure the local organizing committee to now be hoping the hoard of Rider Priders who live among them and within driving distance in several directions will make it back to the scene of the crime that was McMahon Stadium, where they took that too-many-men penalty at the most recent Calgary Grey Cup there in 2009 and lost a Grey Cup that had essentially already been won.

And while the local organizing committee might have to hold their noses a bit, with the Stampeders out, having the fan bases from BOTH Saskatchewan and Edmonton headed to town would likely provide the maximum possible boost to the Calgary economy.

Edmonton, you should know, has twice won Grey Cup in Calgary. So it could be a hat trick. Or would you call that a Stetson trick?

But somewhere out there, there must be CFL fans who would love to see a Winnipeg-Hamilton Grey Cup if for no other reason that those are the two teams with the longest droughts.

The Tiger-Cats haven’t won one since 1999. And the Bombers last time drank out of Lord Grey’s old mug was back in 1990.