It might be the ninth game on the Calgary Stampeders’ schedule but for quarterback Henry Burris the annual Labour Day showdown with arch-rival Edmonton is the most important contest of the regular season.
“It’s the Grey Cup of the regular-season,” Burris said. “It’s not a game you want to lose.
“It’s the Labour Day Classic, it’s something else.”
Calgary lost last year’s contest 37-16, with Burris being forced to leave with a toe injury. But the Stampeders went on to win eight of their last nine regular-season games to finish atop the West Division with a CFL-best 13-5 record.
After beating B.C. 22-18 in the conference final, Calgary capped its season off in style, downing Montreal 22-14 at Olympic Stadium to capture the franchise’s first Grey Cup title since 2001.
The game Monday, though, has more than just sentimental importance for Calgary. The Stampeders (4-4) head into the contest two points behind Edmonton (5-3) in the West Division standings.
The Eskimos won the first meeting of the season 38-35 on Aug. 1.
“Not winning last year brings another level of intensity and another level of focus,” Burris said. “We’ve got to play better, without a doubt.
“We need all three phases of the game to play consistent football and that’ something we haven’t done this season.”
Adding to the Labour Day atmosphere will be an anticipated record crowd at McMahon Stadium. With an additional 5,000 seats added to the stadium for the ’09 Grey Cup game, the crowd could top 40,000 spectators, which would mark the first time that’s happened since 2000 when Calgary last staged the CFL championship game.
A capacity crowd is also expected in Hamilton on Monday when the Tiger-Cats host their arch rivals, the Toronto Argonauts. The would mark the first sellout at Ivor Wynne Stadium since Sept. 5, 2005.
While Hamilton and Toronto enter the game on losing notes, they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The resurgent Ticats — who posted a league-worst 3-15 record last season — are second in the East Division with a 4-4 mark. Hamilton dropped a heart-breaking 31-30 road loss to Edmonton last week, thanks to a late Noel Prefontaine 48-yard field goal that gave the Eskimos their first lead in the game.
Toronto (2-6), was on the short end of a 23-20 home decision to Calgary. The loss was the Argos’ club-record 10th straight at Rogers Centre, possibly signalling it’s a good time for the club to head on the road where the team is a respectable 2-2 this season.
The timing for a change of venue could also be good for Argos first-year head coach Bart Andrus, who is 0-4 at Rogers Centre.
The Argos leads the series 1-0 after downing Hamilton 30-17 in the season opener for both teams July 1. But Toronto will sport a new quarterback as Cody Pickett makes his third straight start for the club.
The game will be Hamilton receiver Arland Bruce’s first against his former team. Bruce spent five-plus seasons with Toronto before he got into Andrus’s doghouse and was dealt to the Ticats on July 29 for the rights to defensive lineman Cory Mace, a third-round 2010 pick and conditional 2001 selection.
Bruce had six catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns against Edmonton.
Kevin Glenn got the start against the Eskimos with incumbent Quinton Porter (knee) on the sidelines. Glenn was 22-of-39 passing for 326 yards and three touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions. Running back DeAndra Cobb rushed for 72 yards on 12 carries and scored a touchdown, but also lost a crucial fumble.
The Labour Day action kicks off Friday night with the Montreal Alouettes (7-1) in Vancouver to face the struggling Lions (3-5). At first glance the game might look like a huge mismatch, but consider the Als haven’t won at B.C. Place since 2000.
Injuries will also force Montreal to make some lineup changes. Etienne Boulay gets the start at safety after incumbent Matthieu Proulx (knee) went on the nine-game injured list.
And Skip Seagraves will start at right tackle in place of injured Josh Bourke (knee).
On Sunday, the Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-4) host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (3-5). The Bombers made huge headlines Tuesday with reports they’d reached a one-year agreement with cornerback Adam (Pacman) Jones. But the deal had fallen through by Wednesday night.
Jones is a former first-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans who has twice been suspended by the NFL for off-field incidents — including for the entire 2007 season — and was released in February by the Dallas Cowboys.