EDMONTON — Emotion won’t be a problem for the Edmonton Eskimos when the Calgary Stampeders come calling at Commonwealth Stadium today.
The trick is to balance it with focus and execution.
As revved up as the 3-3 Eskimos are to begin a stretch that sees them play three of their next four games against the 3-3 Stampeders, rivalry is one thing, but results trump trash talk and bravado.
As head coach Richie Hall is preaching in preparation for the Stampeders, talk is cheap.
“You always want to play a football game, whether it’s that rivalry or any other game, with controlled emotion,” Hall said.
“You have to have that passion, you have to have that energy, you have to have that enthusiasm, but you can’t be so far over here you forget what you’re supposed to do.
“There’s times you can be too jacked up. The thing I try to relate to the players is, no matter what the situation is, you want to be cool, calm and collected. You want to be under control.”
The Eskimos are coming off a 28-21 loss to Hamilton, a game in which they blew a 12-0 lead, committed three turnovers and hurt their cause with untimely penalties, one of which led to a touchdown by Graeme Bell being called back.
So, focus and execution, in concert with the usual element of emotion that inevitably comes when these teams tee it up, is the crux of the game plan Hall is drawing up for the contest (TSN 7 p.m.,).
“You don’t want to get too fired up out there to where you’re kind of out of it and making mistakes,” said quarterback Ricky Ray.
“The last thing you want to do is go out and turn the ball over or take penalties and give them more chances. You want to be fired up, but you need focus to execute because that wins you football games.”
Given the history between these teams, keeping emotions in check and executing with cold, calculated efficiency is easier said than done.
“It is easier said than done. I never said it was easy,” Hall said. “You have to overcome it because when everything settles down, you have to line up and play football. You don’t play football with your mouth.”
While Ray’s an old hand in the provincial fracas, almost half the players on Edmonton’s roster — some 20 players, including injured running back Jesse Lumsden — are in their first season with the Esks.
Rookie running back Arkee Whitlock, looking to be a factor against a Calgary defence that has had difficulty stopping the run, is about to get a crash course.
“I’m still learning about it,” said Whitlock. “As we’ve gone on during the week I’ve heard some of the coaches and the guys say some things about it.
“From what I understand, it’s big. Calgary is right up the road, so, obviously, the guys here don’t want to lose and the Calgary guys don’t want to lose to us. We’re trying to treat it like it’s another business week. We have to do what we do.”
Veteran defensive back Kelly Malveaux, in his first season with the Esks, relishes the opportunity to jump into the mix.
“As a professional athlete, you want to say that you’re super-intense and motivated for every game,” Malveaux said. “But there’s just something about a rivalry that takes it up to another level.
“At the end of the day, though, it always comes down to executing and those Xs and Os. You still have to do those things coach Hall preaches about and keep your head about you.”