Vicki Hall, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Friday, September 22, 2006
EDMONTON - Perhaps Edmonton city council should consider erecting a new sign at every entrance to the Alberta capital.
Forget City of Champions. How about City of Ghosts?
After 15 years kicking for the Edmonton Eskimos, Sean Fleming has come to the conclusion that some Edmontonians suffer from an unhealthy fixation with the past.
They yearn for the glory days of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr with an Oil drop on their chests. They pine for gridiron phantoms like Warren Moon, Dan Kepley and Brian Kelly.
The locals tasted unparalleled success with the dynasties of the Oilers (five Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1990) and the Eskimos (five-in-a-row Grey Cup champs from 1978-1982) and they don't want to let go.
"Every person is different, but my thought is that I don't want to live in the past," said Fleming, a native of Burnaby, B.C. "We tend to do that a lot in Edmonton. We live on our past glory.
"Enough all ready, Gretzky is long gone. So is Messier. In our organization, Warren Moon has left a long time ago. Dan Kepley is gone. It's great to have history, but we have to move on."
The obsession with yesteryear makes the modern-day struggles of the Eskimos (4-8) so traumatizing, according to Fleming. Their streak of 34 straight playoff appearances, dating back to 1971 and a record in North American professionals sports, is in serious jeopardy.
A loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats tonight at Commonwealth Stadium would likely end playoff aspirations for this edition of the Green and Gold.
Fleming, 36, is not about to concede defeat. He thinks the Eskimos can creep into the playoffs and do some damage when they get there.
But they have to do it for the right reasons.
"It's not that I disrespect the players of the past," he said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for them and what they did for his city.
"The streak will eventually end. If it happens this year, it's unfortunate. I certainly wouldn't want to be part of it. But if it happens, it happens. You can't worry about the past and streaks and everything else. You've got to win for today.
"It's not that I don't care about history. I do. But you have to win for yourself and your teammates in the locker-room."
Fleming knows the streak fuels some of his locker-room neighbours, including his close friend Ed Hervey. And he sees no problem with that. Every man must find his own motivation.
Hervey, 33, sees himself as a conduit to the past for the younger players. The speedy wideout wants them to realize what's at stake if the Eskies lose to the lowly Ticats again tonight.
"There's a sense of urgency for guys who understand what it means to Edmonton and what it means to be an Eskimo," Hervey said. "We need a total team effort to go out there and play hard for each other.
"We can't rely on the other guy to make things happen."
"As an offence, we can't rely on our defence to hold our opponents to two points or three points or seven points and expect to win that way," Hervey said. "Offensively, we need to protect Ricky Ray and give him time to throw. As receivers, we need to make catches. When the opportunity comes to run the ball, we need to be disciplined in our blocks."
Discipline is not exactly a hallmark of this team. Penalties at inopportune times have repeatedly hurt the defending Grey Cup champions.
So why all the mental breakdowns? Is the streak wearing on them?
"I don't know," Ray said. "I can't speak for everyone, but we want to go out there and try to keep the streak alive and be successful.
"You know, you can't win them all. We're trying out there. We're busting our butts. We're playing hard and things just aren't going our way.
"Obviously we're running out of opportunities here, but we can't give up yet. We've got to continue to go out and play hard and see if we can make another run."
That's what the fans want and expect. So do the players, especially the ones who've been around a while.
With this year's struggles, it's easy to forget that the Eskimos have played in the Grey Cup three times in the last four years. They've won twice.
In this era of mass player migration, Fleming, Hervey and Ray think that's plenty to be proud of. And they'd like to add to their legacy with one more Grey Cup -- or, at the very least, another playoff appearance.
"We're trying to make our history, right here, right now," Fleming said. " Look, the Oilers were the dominant team for so long in the NHL and then they missed the playoffs for a couple years. Now they're making their own history. And we're making our own history."