Saturday, June 24, 2017

How to Go to an Edmonton Eskimos Game

Tonight, the Edmonton Eskimos begin the Canadian Football League season, against the BC Lions in Vancouver. This coming Friday night, they play their home opener, against the Montreal Alouettes.

Before You Go. At 53 degrees, 33 minutes North latitude, Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton is, if you count the CFL, the northernmost venue in North America's 5 major sports leagues. But since this is Summer, the legendary Canadian cold won't be an issue. The Edmonton Sun is predicting that temperatures will be in the mid-60s during the day and the low 50s at night, with a 30 percent chance of rain.

This is Canada, so you will need your passport. You will need to change your money. At this writing, C$1.00 = US 75 cents, and US$1.00 = C$1.33. And I advise you to call your bank and let them know that you will be in a foreign country, so they won't see credit or debit card purchases from a foreign country pop up and think your card has been stolen.

Also, remember that they use the metric system. A speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour means 62 miles an hour. And don't be fooled by the seemingly low gas prices: That's per liter, not per gallon, and, in spite of Canada being a major oil-producing nation, you'll actually be paying more for gas up there. So, in order to avoid both confusion and "sticker-shock," get your car filled up before you reach the border.

Edmonton is in the Mountain Time Zone, so they are 2 hours behind New York and New Jersey. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

And this is very important: If you need to go to the bathroom, don't ask anyone where the "bathroom" is. Ask for the "washroom."

Tickets. The Eskimos averaged 30,998 fans per home game last season, about 55 percent of capacity. Getting tickets shouldn't be hard. In the Lower Level, midfield seats are $89, sideline seats are $56, and end zone seats are $32. In the Upper Level, midfield seats are $68 and sideline seats are $44. that's in Canadian dollars, so they're probably a little less expensive to us than that.

Getting There. It's 2,425 miles from Times Square to downtown Edmonton (341 miles from the closest border crossing, at Babb, Montana). Naturally, your first thought would be to fly. So flying is easily the best way to get there. You can fly Air Canada from Newark to Edmonton and back, changing planes in Calgary, for just under $1,000 ($991).

Taking Greyhound takes almost 66 hours, and forces you to change buses twice going out, and a whopping 4 times coming back in:

Leave Port Authority 12:15 AM Wednesday
Arrive Toronto 10:30 AM Wednesday (2 hour, 30 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Toronto 1:00 PM Wednesday
Arrive Winnipeg 7:45 PM Thursday (45 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Winnipeg 8:30 PM Thursday
Arrive Edmonton 3:40 PM Friday

Game kicks off in Edmonton 8:00 PM Friday
Game ends around 11:30 PM Friday
(1 hour, 15 minutes to catch bus, unless you spend the night)

Leave Edmonton 12:45 AM Saturday
Arrive Winnipeg 9:45 PM Saturday (30 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Winnipeg 10:15 PM Saturday
Arrive Sudbury 11:50 PM Sunday (40 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Sudbury 12:30 AM Monday
Arrive Ottawa 7:25 AM Monday (35 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Ottawa 8:00 AM Monday
Arrive Montreal 10:30 AM Monday (45 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Montreal 11:15 AM Monday
Arrive Port Authority 8:35 PM Monday

New York to Edmonton is $543 round-trip. The Greyhound station is at 11041 105th Avenue NW at 111th Street.

The Toronto-to-Vancouver train runs only every other day, so you'd have this schedule if you went by train:

Leave Penn Station 7:15 AM Tuesday
Arrive Toronto 4:45 PM (5 hour, 15 minute layover, change trains)
Leave Toronto 10:00 PM Tuesday
Arrive Edmonton 6:22 AM Friday
Game kicks off in Edmonton 8:00 PM Friday
Game ends around 11:30 PM Friday (24 hours to catch train back out)
Leave Edmonton 11:59 PM Saturday (July 1, their national holiday)
Arrive Toronto 9:30 AM Tuesday (July 4, our national holiday)
(22 hour, 50 minute layover, change trains)
Leave Toronto 8:20 AM Wednesday
Arrive Penn Station 9:50 PM Wednesday

New York to Toronto is US$252. Toronto to Edmonton is C$987.72, or US$744.56. So the total price is $997, or roughly the same as flying. Yeah, forget the train. At any rate, the Edmonton station for VIA Rail Canada is at 12360 121st Street NW.

Would driving be better? You tell me: You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won't need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key, through the rest of Ohio and Indiana.

Just outside Chicago, I-80 will split off from I-90, which you will keep, until it merges with Interstate 94. For the moment, though, you will ignore I-94. Stay on I-90 through Illinois, until reaching Madison, Wisconsin, where you will once again merge with I-94. Now, I-94 is what you want, taking it into Minnesota and the Twin Cities.

However, unless you want to make a rest stop actually in Minneapolis or St. Paul, you're going to bypass them entirely. Take Exit 249 to get on Interstate 694, the Twin Cities' beltway, until you merge with Interstate 494 to reform I-94. Crossing Minnesota into North Dakota, you'll take Exit 256 to U.S. Route 52 West, and take that up to the Canadian border.

Presuming you don't do anything stupid that makes Customs officials keep you out of Canada, U.S. 52 will continue as Saskatchewan Provincial Route 39. At Weyburn, you'll turn right on Provincial Route 35. At Francis, you'll turn left on Provincial Route 33. At the Provincial Capital of Regina, you'll take the Trans-Canada Highway, which you'll take to Provincial Route 11. Stay on that after it becomes Provincial Route 16. At Saskatoon, follow the signs to stay on Route 16, and take that into Alberta, where it will remain Provincial Route 16.

Turn left onto Fort Road NW, and stay on it until it flows into 80th Street. It will curve right into 115th Avenue. Turn left on 86th Street (with all these numbered streets, it may start to feel like Queens), which becomes Stadium Drive at 112th Avenue. The stadium will be on your right.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 and a half hours in Indiana, an hour and a half in Illinois, 2 and a half hours in Wisconsin, 4 and a half hours in Minnesota, 6 hours in North Dakota, 13 and a half hours in Saskatchewan (believe it, it's over 800 miles), and 4 hours in Alberta. That's 45 hours and 15 minutes. Throw in rest stops, and we're talking closer to 62 hours -- 2 and a half days. You'd have to really love both driving and hockey, and not mind cold weather, to do that.

And, on October 14, 2016, President Obama finally ended the ban on bringing Cuban cigars into America. This also applies to rum, for which Cuba is also renowned. It is still considerably easier to buy these items in Canada than in America, but, now, you can bring them back over the border.

Once In the City. Located on the Saskatchewan River, Fort Edmonton, a fur-trading post, was founded in 1795, but not incorporated until 1892, making it the youngest city in all of North American major league sports. (The youngest of the U.S. cities with at least 2 teams is Phoenix, founded in 1881.) It is Alberta's Provincial capital.
Alberta Legislature Building

Named for a village in England's historic county of Middlesex (now a part of North London), the name meaning Eadhelm's Town, Alberta's capital and 2nd-largest city has over 1,060,000 people, but adding the suburbs only makes it 1.3 million -- a familiar pattern in Canada, except for its 3 biggest cities of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Edmonton has East-West numbered Avenues and North-South numbered Streets -- the exact opposite of Manhattan. Anthony Henday Drive (named for an English explorer of Western Canada, effectively Canada's "Lewis & Clark") divides the city into North and South. But while there are streets with NW and SW suffixes, there's no NE and SE.

And the Alberta Legislature Building, roughly the focal point of the city, is at 97th Avenue NW and 107th Street NW. Go figure. That's like if New York City had the same street grid, but City Hall were at the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, New Jersey. (A town named after American Revolution hero General Anthony Wayne, not Wayne Gretzky.)
The sales tax in the Province of Alberta is 5 percent, and it doesn't go up in the City of Edmonton. The city has buses and light rail, and a single fare is C$3.20 (which works out to about US$2.40, so it's cheaper than New York's).
The drinking age in Alberta is 18. Postal Codes in the Province start with the letter T. The Area Code is 780, with 587 and 825 as overlays for the entire Province.

Going In. Not to be confused with the football stadium of the same name at the University of Kentucky, Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium is at 11000 Stadium Road, at 112th Avenue, about a mile and a half northeast of downtown. Stadium station on the light rail. If you drive in, parking is $10.

Last year, The Brick Ltd., an Edmonton-based retailer of furniture, mattresses, appliances and home electronics, bought the naming rights, so it's now The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium.
It was built to host the 1978 Commonwealth Games, the mini-Olympics held every 4 years by the British Commonwealth, formerly known as the Empire Games. (Hence, Vancouver's old stadium was Empire Stadium.) Having once had a capacity of over 60,000, it's now at 56,302. The field runs north-to-south, and the real grass field was replaced with FieldTurf in 2010.

The Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos have played here since it opened, and have won 10 Grey Cups, the CFL's Super Bowl, since moving in. The team's green and yellow color scheme is installed in the seats, giving the stadium a weird look.
The Grey Cup has been played there 4 times: In 1984, 1997, 2002 and 2010. Like the Super Bowl, its site is chosen in advance, in the hope of getting a neutral site; but, with the CFL having only 9 teams, the chance of a host team playing in it is a lot higher than in the Super Bowl. However, the Esks played in only 1 of those 4, in 2002, and they lost to Montreal, who also won in 2010. Winnipeg won in 1984, and Toronto in 1997.

The Edmonton Oilers also hosted Montreal in a 2003 hockey doubleheader at Commonwealth Stadium, starting the NHL's "new tradition" of outdoor games, preceded by an old-timers' game between the 1980s Oilers and the 1970s Canadiens -- 11 Stanley Cups between them. The Oilers won the old-timers' game, but the Canadiens won the regular game, best remembered for Montreal goalie Jose Theodore wearing a "toque," or a ski cap, with a Canadiens logo, over his regulation helmet.

(Apparently, he checked with the NHL office, and was allowed to wear it during a game. The NHL appears to have less of a fetish for uniform restrictions than the NFL.)
Oilers fans at the original "Heritage Classic,"
November 22, 2003

The Edmonton Drillers of the old North American Soccer League played there, and FC Edmonton of the new NASL now uses it for games that exceed the capacity of Clarke Stadium. It was also one of the venues for Canada's hosting of the 2015 Women's World Cup.

Built in 1938, the adjacent Clarke Stadium was the first home of the Eskimos, from 1946 to 1977. They won 4 Grey Cups here: 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1975. So they won the 1st 3 Grey Cups after the CFL was founded, and the 1st 5 after they moved next-door into Commonwealth Stadium. (Maybe they should move again, so they can win again.)
The current Clarke Stadium

The original stadium was demolished, and a much smaller stadium, with 6,000 seats, was built on the site. FC Edmonton uses it for most home games. In 2018, the Canadian Premier League, Canada's attempt at a "top flight" soccer league, will begin play, and it is possible that FC Edmonton will join it. Whether they will move to Commonwealth Stadium remains to be seen.

Food. The stadium website doesn't say much, only that, "Commonwealth Stadium offers a variety of food and beverage options sold through the many concessions located on the East and West Concourses." You might be better off eating before and after the game.

Team History Displays. The Edmonton Eskimos have won 14 Grey Cups. The 1st 4 were won at Clarke Stadium: 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1975. The last 6 have been won at Commonwealth Stadium: 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1987, 1993, 2003, 2005 and 2015. Yes, they won 5 straight titles, the only time it's happened in Canadian football, led by quarterback Warren Moon. Yes, that Warren Moon. However, there is no display honoring these titles in the fan-viewable areas of the stadium.

What the Eskimos do have is a Wall of Honour, displayed on the edge of the concrete separating the decks. Rather than retire these players' numbers, they keep them in circulation. They have honored 30 players thus far:

* From the 1954, '55 and '56 Grey Cups: 14, 2-way back Oscar Kruger; 18, 2-way back Rollie Miles; 24, running back and linebacker Johnny Bright; 27, quarterback and defensive back Don Getty ('55 and '56 only); 51, 2-way end Frank "Guts" Anderson; 52, guard and defensive tackle Frank Morris; 66, 2-way tackle Roger Nelson; 91, quarterback and defensive back Jackie Parker; 95, 2-way back Normie Kwong. In 2006, TSN (The Sports Network, Canada's version of ESPN), released the 50 Greatest CFL Players. Parker came in at Number 3, Bright at 19, Kwong at 34 and Miles at 48.
Jackie Parker

* From between the '56 and '75 Cups: 66, defensive tackle John LaGrone; 75, receiver Tommy Joe Coffey, who came in at Number 27 on the CFL 50 Greatest.

* From the 1975 Grey Cup: 12, quarterback Tom Wilkinson; 13, defensive back Larry Highbaugh; 26, kicker Dave Cutler; 42, linebacker Danny Kepley; 55, defensive tackle Ron Estay; 62, offensive tackle Bill Stevenson; 65, defensive tackle Dave Fennell; 76, receiver George McGowan (was still there in '78, but not after). Kepley came in at 11 on the CFL 50 Greatest, Fennell at 24, Highbaugh at 38.

* From the 1978, '79, '80, '81 and '82 Grey Cups: Wilkinson, Highbaugh, Cutler, Kepley, Estay, Stevenson, Fennell; 1, quarterback Warren Moon; 22, slotback Tom Scott; 63, offensive tackle Hector Pothier; 70, receiver Brian Kelly (not there until '79, and not the current Notre Dame head coach). Moon came in at 5 on the CFL 50 Greatest, Kelly at 20, and James "Quick" Parker, a defensive end from the '80, '81 and '82 Grey Cups, who is not on the Wall of Honour but is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (and is not related to Jackie Parker), at 21.
Warren Moon in the Battle of Alberta
with the Calgary Stampeders

* From the 1987 Grey Cup: Stevenson, Pothier, Kelly; 2, receiver Henry "Gizmo" Williams; 30, linebacker Danny Bass; 47, linebacker Larry Wruck; 67, center Rod Connop (was also there in '82). On the CFL 50 Greatest, Williams came in at 25, Bass at 44, and, not on the Wall of Honour but in the Hall of Fame, mainly for how they played elsewhere, quarterbacks Damon Allen at 14 and Matt Dunigan at 39.

* From the 1993 Grey Cup: Williams, Wruck, Connop; 11, kicker Sean Fleming; 39, linebacker Willie Pless; 60, guard Chris Morris (now the head coach at the University of Alberta, but still wearing green and gold). Pless came in at 16 on the CFL 50 Greatest.

* From the 2003 and '05 Grey Cups: Fleming, Chris Morris. Not on the Wall of Honour, but in the Hall of Fame and in the CFL 50 Greatest, running back Mike Pringle came in at 4, defensive end Joe Montford at 40, and slotback Terry Vaughn at 45, all mainly for what they did for other teams. No players have yet been honored from the 2015 Grey Cup.

Stuff. The Eskimos Team Store is located at the Recreation Centre in the stadium's south end. It is open on non-game days, and they recommend coming on Saturdays to avoid lines.

Books about the Eskimos are not exactly filling a library shelf. Graham Kelly wrote Grey Cup Glory! The Edmonton Eskimos' 2003 Championship Season. But nothing on their mid-1950s or late-'70s, early-'80s dynasties. There is a commemorative DVD: CFL Traditions: Edmonton Eskimos, but that came out in 2003, so it doesn't have the 3 most recent Grey Cup wins on it.

During the Game. If you were wearing a Calgary Stampeders jersey, you might have a problem. Maybe a BC Lions, a Toronto Argonauts, or an Ottawa Redblacks jersey. Other than that, I don't think Edmonton fans will bother you. You should be safe.

The Eskimos hold auditions for singing the National Anthem -- "O, Canada," of course, not "The Star-Spangled Banner." They have 2 mascots: Nanook, a polar bear, tying in with the Eskimo theme without insulting the "First Nations" (indigenous peoples -- never "Indians"); and Punter, a big football.
During the break between the 3rd and 4th quarter of each home game fans stand and sing the "Edmonton Eskimos Fight Song" to the "Washington and Lee Swing" fight song from the Virginia university of the same name:


We're cheering fight, fight, fight on Eskimos
We're marching right, right, right on Eskimos
We're charging down the field for all to see
and shouting rah, rah, rah, fight on to victory
We're fighting on till every game is won
The Green and Gold is bold and when we're done
we'll tell the world we're proud of Edmonton
and the Edmonton Eskimos!

After the Game. As long as you don't go out of your way to praise the Stampeders, you'll be safe on your way out. Edmontonians are good football fans, and not goons.

The End Zone Pub is across 112th Avenue from the north end of the stadium. Further east on 112th are a McDonald's and a Caribbean restaurant called Saffron's.

If your visit to Edmonton is during the European soccer season (now in the off-season, starting up again in mid-August), the best place to watch your favorite club is at The Pint Public House, 10125 109 Street NW, about a mile west of downtown. Light rail to Corona.

Sidelights. If Americans know one thing about Edmonton, it's Gretzky. If they know another, it's the world's largest mall. Except it isn't the world's largest anymore. Here are some things you should know about Edmonton, especially if you're a sports fan:

* Rogers Place. The new Oilers arena is at 10220 104th Avenue NW, at 103rd Street. The naming rights ties Canadian TV network Rogers Sportsnet, already with its name on Toronto's former SkyDome (Rogers Centre) and Vancouver's former General Motors Place (Rogers Arena) with AT&T for the most North American sports buildings with naming rights: 3.
It's already been nicknamed the "Rog Mahal."

It can be reached by light rail, at MacEwan Station, as it's adjacent to MacEwan University. So it's much more convenient than the old arena, beyond simply being newer and more comfortable. It claims the largest scoreboard in the NHL: 46 feet long by 46 feet wide by 36 feet high. It is shared by the Oilers and their top farm team, the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League.

* Northlands Coliseum. Also known at various times as the Edmonton Coliseum, the Skyreach Centre and Rexall Place, the old Oliers arena is about 3 1/2 miles northeast of downtown.

The 501 light rail goes from Grandin Station to Coliseum Station, and takes 17 minutes. The address is 10220 104th Avenue NW, at 103rd Street NW. A shopping mall, Edmonton EXPO Center at Northlands, is across 118th Avenue.
It had also been home to the minor-league Edmonton Oil Kings, indoor soccer's Edmonton Drillers, concerts, pro wrestling, and events of the 1978 Commonwealth Games. (The Games are a mini-Olympics for nations in the British Commonwealth, including Canada. Previously known as the Empire Games, Vancouver's old Empire Stadium was built for them.)

* Site of Edmonton Gardens. Edmonton's 1st arena was across 118th Avenue from the Northlands Coliseum/Rexall Place, in what's now a parking lot for the Edmonton EXPO Center. It opened in 1913 and was demolished in 1982. It was home to a succession of minor league teams, including the Edmonton Oil Kings, who became and remain a farm club of the Oilers, who played their 1st 2 seasons there, 1972-74.
Despite years of complaints that it was outdated and "a disaster waiting to happen," two attempts to demolish the Coliseum by dynamite failed, and they had to use a wrecking ball. They knew how to build buildings in those days, especially sports venues. (The man who ran Detroit's Olympia Stadium in the Red Wings' last few years there said that he'd want to be inside it if The Bomb dropped.)

* RE/MAX Field. This 10,000-seat ballpark, formerly Edmonton Ballpark and Telus Field for Canada's largest phone company, opened in 1995, for the Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League. However, it has been without a permanent tenant since the close of the 2011 season. 10233 96th Avenue at Rossdale Road, at the southern edge of downtown, east of the Legislature. Number 9 bus.
The closest Major League Baseball team to Edmonton is the Seattle Mariners, and the closest Major League Soccer team is the Seattle Sounders. And those teams are not close: 790 miles away. The nearest NBA team is even further: The Portland Trail Blazers are 955 miles away. While FC Edmonton has pretensions to moving up to MLS, don't expect Edmonton to get a team in either MLB or the NBA: The metro area population is so low, they'd be 31st and dead last in each.

According to an article in the May 12, 2014 New York Times, the most popular NBA team in Edmonton is easily the Los Angeles Lakers, well ahead of runners-up the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics.

* Old Strathcona. Once the commercial core of the separate city of Strathcona, the area is now Edmonton's main arts and entertainment district, as well as a local shopping hub for local residents and students at the nearby University of Alberta. Many of the area's businesses are owner-operated, but chains have also made inroads in the neighborhood. A good proportion of Edmonton's theaters and live-performance venues are also located in the area. The district centres on Whyte Avenue, formerly 82nd Avenue.

The University of Alberta has won the University Cup, the championship of Canadian collegiate hockey, 15 times: In 1964, 1968, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1986, 1992, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2014 and 2015.

* Royal Alberta Museum. Just as the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is Eastern Canada's most important museum, so is the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) the most important in Western Canada. Its natural history exhibits make it an analogue to New York's American Museum of Natural History. 12845 102nd Avenue NW at Wellington Crescent. Bus 1 or 5.

* Muttart Conservatory. This botanical garden is noted for its pyramid-shaped greenhouses. 9626 96A Street NW at 96th Avenue. Number 2 or 5 bus to 96th Street and Jasper Avenue, then walk across the North Saskatchewan River. Or it can be reached on foot, taking the Connors Road bridge over the river; between the bus and hoofing it, walking all the way would take about the same amount of time.

* West Edmonton Mall. From 1981 until 2004, this was the largest shopping mall in the world. It's still the largest in North America, ahead of even the Mall of America outside Minneapolis. It includes theme parks Galaxyland, World Waterpark, Sea Lions Park and an NHL-sized rink called the Ice Palace. The Oilers previously used it as a practice facility. 8882 170th Street NW. Number 2 bus.

Edmonton is not big on skyscrapers: The 15 tallest buildings in Alberta are all in Calgary. The tallest building in Edmonton is the EPCOR Tower, at 10423 101st Street NW at 103rd Avenue, and it isn't even 500 feet tall (490). However, the Stantec Tower is currently under construction, and when it opens (currently scheduled for 2019), it will be the tallest in Alberta, and the tallest in Canada west of Toronto, at 823 feet. 102nd Street NW and 103rd Avenue NW, a block south of Rogers Place.

Edmonton has never produced a Prime Minister. The Province of Alberta has, 3 of them. But 2, R.B. Bennett in the 1930s and the recently defeated Stephen Harper, represented ridings in Calgary, and Joe Clark was from Yellowhead, in the western part of the Province. So there's no historic site relating to any of them anywhere near Edmonton.

There have been a few movies with scenes shot in Edmonton, including the Ginger Snaps films and Good Luck Chuck. I didn't say they were good movies... (The latter starred Dane Cook, a comedian and a Red Sox fan, and not particularly funny at either. Even Jessica Alba couldn't save this movie.) And any TV shows set there would be shown on Canadian TV only, and would be unfamiliar to U.S. audiences.

*

Edmonton has hockey, a big mall, and the Royal Alberta Museum. That's about it. But you might have a good time there anyway, including at a football game.

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