By Eric Licis, October 27 2015 —
After years of dominance at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders, the Edmonton Eskimos are finally reviving the CFL’s Battle of Alberta.
The Stampeders and Eskimos have battled one another since their 1949 inception. Edmonton leads Calgary 125–93–3 in the clubs’ all-time regular season head-to-head record and 13–12 in the postseason. Though these records seem to suggest that the Eskimos have held the upper hand for much of these squads’ history, this is far from the case.
In the early 2000s, star quarterback Ricky Ray and wide receiver Jason Tucker were the pinnacle of both the Eskimos roster and the CFL as a whole. The duo led Edmonton to two Grey Cups in three seasons, making the Eskimos the most feared club in the league. But the Eskimos fell fast after their championship campaign in 2005 — the club has not earned a single trip back to the Grey Cup final since that last championship.
The Stampeders, on the other hand, have been a perennial contender since Edmonton’s victorious 2005 season. Led by quarterback Henry Burris for several years, Calgary put together numerous legitimate championship bids, earning two Grey Cups in 2008 and 2014.
These opposing trajectories allowed the Albertan rivalry to fade significantly over the past decade. The Stampeders have been the undeniably better team for a number of years — at one point, the Stampeders rode a 12-game winning streak against the Eskimos — making the Battle of Alberta label seem more like a sarcastic gibe than a fitting title for the once-great rivalry.
But the tides are finally turning and it seems the Eskimos have caught up to the Stampeders. Edmonton may in fact hold the edge, having won two of three games against their provincial rival this season.
Defence has been the highlight in each of the three matches, with neither team managing to reach 30 points in any of the meetings. Under the guidance of new head coach Chris Jones, the Eskimos elected to move away from their former gun-slinger identity to a focus on defensive responsibility.
Calgary has taken the opposite approach, structuring their team around all-star quarterback Bo-Levi Mitchell to provide fans with an exciting brand of football — one that earned them a championship just last season.
Both styles have brought exceptional success so far. The two clubs each sit with 24 points and identical 12–4 records through 16 games this season and are tied atop the league standings. Edmonton, though, technically holds first place, as they won the season series against the Stampeders.
As the two Albertan squads look like far and away the best two teams in the league at this point — they each have four more points than the next highest club, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats — it appears both clubs will be top contenders for the 2015 Grey Cup.
Currently riding a dominant six-game winning streak, the Eskimos hit their stride in their second season under a new coach and seem unstoppable heading into the final handful of regular season games. However, Calgary’s straight-ahead offence and recent championship experience make them an undeniable threat, which means a Western Final matchup between the two teams will be a thrilling battle for all involved.
Regardless of exactly how this season concludes, CFL fans in Alberta can be thankful that they once again are able to enjoy one of the most passionate rivalries in Canadian sports. No longer a one-sided affair, the Battle of Alberta has found life once again, and only looks set to only improve once the fireworks of the postseason begin.