August 7, 1964: Little Bruce, just 8 years old, goes to his first Canadian Football League game. Calgary Stampeders at Edmonton Eskimos. I know little of the back story, I just know the good guys wear green and gold.
Except the good guys aren't very good. At all. The game seems pretty even at first: the Stamps get an early major, but the Esks respond right away on a touchdown catch by Tommy Joe Coffey in the end zone right in front of me. After a long single off the ensuing kickoff by Dr. Bill Mitchell (damned if I know how I remember this stuff) to tease a kid who didn't know any better with a way-too-early 8-7 lead, Calgary runs up the next 38 points and ultimately rolls to an utterly convincing 52-15 shellacking. A record shellacking, as it turns out ... at least, it used to be a record.
I've always remembered the score of that darn game. It was my only live CFL experience for many years, as my family moved back to Newfoundland later that summer, and I had to chew on that 52-15 scoreline for years as I rooted on the still-futile Eskimos from afar.
We returned to Edmonton to stay seven summers later. An avid sports fan by then, I started going to all the Eskimos' home games that summer of '71. Not much had changed: the Stamps swept the season series from the Esks and rolled to the Grey Cup while the home town heroes sank to the Western Conference basement. But at least the Oil Kings were still league champions, the WHA was just around the corner, and the Esks themselves had a promising future. Things weren't all bad ... then.
Imagine my surprise when I heard that date of August 7, 1964 cited just last month. The Stampeders had just thumped the Eskimos 56-15, knocking a record of 46 years out of the books - biggest drubbing of the Eskimos by the Stampeders, ever. I had apparently seen the previous worst buttkicking as a fresh-faced youngster barely learning the rules of the sport. Until now it had never once gotten worse than that.
The new record lasted all of three weeks.
In this year's version of the Labour Day
Classic AssKick, Calgary laid an even more severe pounding on the green and gold, running up a humiliating scoreline of 52-5. 52-5? WTF kind of score is that?! A well-deserved one if the stats are my guide. 5 yards rushing. More yards in penalties (164) than net offence (152). More turnovers (6) than points (5). It was total submission, again. The two worst Eskimo beatdowns in the 62-year history history of the rivalry in consecutive games.
Alas, it's not just the Eskimos who assume the position every time they see a red sweater. No, it's much, much worse than that. Can't Beat Calgary disease has infected hockey as well.
Here's the current status of three different "Battles" of Alberta:
- CFL - Calgary has won the last 6 straight, including a playoff game. Combined score: 229-90.
- WHL - Calgary has won the last 15 straight, including a playoff sweep. Combined score: 70-19.
- NHL - Calgary has won the last 7 straight, although no playoffs of course. (Playoffs? Don't talk to me about playoffs.) Combined score: 29-12.
Pure pucking pwnage.
Let's ignore chronology for a moment and simply add up the losing streaks. 28 straight losses. 121 for, 328 against. Holy. Crap.
Just looking at those numbers makes me reach for my stress puck - the one with the Golden Bears logo on it. :)
Hard to imagine three different teams all bottoming out so completely at the same time. Not just against Calgary, either: the Oilers were DFL as we all know, while both the Oil Kings and Eskimos were/are among the lowest dregs of their respective leagues. They're bad against everybody, and worst against Cowtown. It is a sad time to be a sports fan in the city of Edmonton.
The Oil Kings at least have an excuse. They're a recent expansion team, Calgary an established power. I saw a couple of those games live, and it was men against boys, at least on the execution side of things. Still, 15 in a row is tough to swallow. Don't they ever have an off night, a tough road trip, the flu? Don't we ever have the thieving goaltender having a hot date with his old friend Irene? Aren't we long overdue for Mr. Stripes to give us an even-up call?
I happened to be at the last game that the Oilers beat the Flames. It was the final weekend of the 2008-09 season, a mere 17 months ago. It was a nothing game: the Flames were comfortably in the playoffs, the Oilers comfortably out of them. Meaningless except it was the last home game of the season: the Oil wanted to go out in style, and the fans were in a forgiving mood. And it was Calgary.
It also happened to be the infamous game where the Flames had to play three men short because of Darryl Sutter's glittering cap management skills, and it turned out that yes, 18 guys can (eventually) outskate 15. 'Twas one of those games that stayed 0-0 for a long time but when it finally cracked, it broke wide open and then the bounces started going right, and for one night at least, you feel like you can't lose. Steve MacIntyre of all people scored the winner, and Patrick O'Sullivan even scored FFS, and Sheldon Souray got his 23rd to end the night with a studly wonderbomb.
The two teams headed to Calgary for the season finale the next night, the Oilers rolled over to the still shorthanded Flames in a dismal showing, and they've pretty much assumed the position ever since.
Last NHL season "featured" an embarrassing season sweep by a Calgary team that itself wasn't good enough to make the playoffs, despite the 12-point headstart. It began with two debilitating home losses right off the top that stung all year long, and in fact set the tone for the worst season in Oiler history. The first featured Nikolai Khabibulin's Edmonton debut, an epic fail in which Khabibulin blew both game and Bettman point with an horrific last-minute gaffe that may have been the blooper of the year in the NHL. In the season opener. Against Calgary. It was followed days later by a game in which 1) the Oilers lost Souray to a dangerous Iginla trip which ruined his season; 2) thecaptainethanmoreau went to avenge the fallen only to fall himself, faster than Sonny Liston, in a highly embarrassing fight (see the pic up top); 3) the Oil nursed a 3-2 lead into the dying seconds only to have the Flames score a highly suspect tying goal at the death which barely survived video review; then 4) Calgary took the shootout after again getting an iffy call in yet a second video review. Two absolutely brutal losses; in fact, I'd call them two of the harshest regular season setbacks in the history of the Oilers, despite their October-ness.
From there it went further downhill, as the Oilers simply weren't competitive enough to give Calgary a decent game. 5-2. 4-1. 2-1 (nowhere near as close as it sounds). 6-1. Awful games, every last one of them. Along the way the Oilers even managed to lose a public relations war with a douchebag Calgary restaurateur FFS. It was so gawdawful bad we were even getting sympathy posts from Flames' fans. Well-meaning, many of them, but they stung in their underlying truth: our team was pitiful. How could it have come to this?
There, I feel better already. Gotta clear the old brain somehow. What's past is past. Let's recognize the beast for what it is, and put it in the rearview as soon as possible. How the hell can this be turned around?
One thing we know already is that it can't possibly get any worse, it can only get longer. The law of averages has to be on our side at some frickin' point. I'm not just talking about the bounces in this game or that or even the one that finally ends each of these year-plus losing streaks, but bounces in the cycle of sports. (Taylor Hall, anyone?) The Esks and Stamps each have only one way to go, and it's toward each other. The same is likely true of the Oil Kings and Hitmen. The Oilers too have a long way to go, but it's not like the Flames have been challenging for the Cup. It's only against us they look like worldbeaters. They always seem to get up for the Edmonton games, so what's our problem?
* * *
I'm afraid it's too much to expect the Eskimos to come all the way back and actually beat the Stampeders tomorrow, but how about showing up prepared to play, and to make plays? Is that too much to ask?
As for the Oil Kings, you want to establish yourselves as a relevant game in this town? Simple: beat Calgary. At least once.
For the Oilers, there are no excuses. Starting with Game One, right here in Edmonton. It's a month off, but as a fan I'm ready for that game right now, and I bloody well expect my team to be ready for it that night. I don't expect miracles from the 2010-11 Oilers - none of these teams will turn it around overnight - but the days of rolling over to Calgary need to stop. Forthwith.
The road to respectability doesn't end in Calgary (he said mildly), but it sure in the hell needs to start there. Enough is enough.