November 28, 2015


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Esks, Blue low-key on battle-of-unbeatens talk

A boxing promoter -- the ever-loquacious Don King, for example -- would be buying up billboards all over Winnipeg and grabbing every open advertising spot on The Sports Network.

And he'd loudly pitch Thursday's Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Edmonton Eskimos matchup as a battle of two unbeaten CFL teams. A clash of three-down titans, a marquee war between two early-season surprises.

Yes, "Somebody's '0' has got to go!"

And yet, maybe this whole winning thing has been so foreign to these clubs over the last little while -- just two winning seasons between the two of them in the last five years -- those involved have completely lost how to sell, sell, sell the game.

In fact, based on what was heard from players and coaches from both sides in advance of Thursday's tilt, it could be said they handled hyping the thing with all the deftness of a blindfolded wrecking-ball operator.

Yes, to hear the Bombers and Eskimos tell it, this is nothing more than the fourth game on the schedule.

"The unbeaten stuff, all that is really -- no offence -- a media thing," said Bomber defensive end Jason Vega. "It's something for you guys to talk about, but it doesn't really do anything for us. It doesn't matter.

"For us, we look at it as us being 0-0. It didn't matter what we did last week or the last three weeks. We're 0-0. Fortunately, we find ourselves in the position where we're both undefeated. We're playing much better than we did last year, whether that be personnel, coaching or whatever it is. It's an interesting position. I've been in it before when I came in 2011 and we were really bad the year before.

"It's going to be the same every week, all the way through hopefully to the end of November. It doesn't really matter what we did before."

That was the common theme spat out by most of the Bombers and Eskimos in their final chats with the media before tonight's game. Some of that vanilla approach, undoubtedly, comes from the two rookie head coaches in Mike O'Shea and Chris Jones, who are both trying to hammer home an expect-don't-hope-to-win mentality.

But given that last year the two sides were a combined 7-29, you'd expect somebody to be a little cranked up with the microphones in front of them.

"We were both terrible last year and now we're at the top of the league right now," said Eskimo defensive lineman Almondo Sewell. "But it's a long year, anything can happen."

True enough. But somebody is going to exit this game with a 4-0 record and then be looking at heading into August still unbeaten. The Bombers will be on the road for the next two weeks -- in Vancouver and Hamilton -- while the Esks are home to Calgary and then have a bye.

But neither side will have any of that talk.

A battle of the unbeatens? Don't go there.

It's Bombers vs. Eskimos, 7:30 p.m. Investors Group Field. Get your tickets now.

"It is exciting, it's a great opportunity to come and play against a team that has had a lot of success and is playing some great football," said Eskimo quarterback Mike Reilly. "We feel like we've been playing good football, too, and so it's going to be a good test for us. But I don't really think that the last three weeks matters. I don't think Winnipeg cares what we've done in the first three weeks. They want to come out here and beat up on us and we want to do the same to them.

"Just as we forgot about 2013, we've kind of forgotten about the first three weeks' games as well. We're concerned about this game and we're not worried about anything past that or anything before it. We just know we're coming in here to play against a very good football team and we've got to execute at a high level in order to come out with a win." Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 17, 2014 D3

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