Edmonton Eskimos

The Edmonton Eskimos are a community-owned football team that plays in the West Division of the Canadian Football League(CFL). In the CFL’s modern era (post-Second World War), the Eskimos have won the Grey Cup championship 14 times, second only to the 16 championships held by the Toronto Argonauts. This included three victories in a row from 1954 to 1956 and an unprecedented five straight championships from 1978 to 1982. The club also holds a North American professional sports record for reaching the playoffs in 34 consecutive seasons between 1972 and 2005. Notable Eskimos alumni include former Albertapremiers Peter Lougheed and Don Getty, former lieutenant-governor of Alberta Norman Kwong and former Edmontonmayor Bill Smith.

Commonwealth Stadium
Home of the Edmonton Eskimos.

Quick Facts about the Edmonton Eskimos
Date Founded: 1949
Venue: The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium
Team Colours: Green, gold and white
Grey Cup Victories: 14

The Edmonton Eskimos Name

The current Edmonton Eskimos franchise was founded in 1949. However, various Edmonton sports teams have used versions of the Eskimos moniker (including Esquimaux) since the late 19th century. But by the 21st century, the name had become controversial, particularly in the Inuit community. Similar to controversies over the Washington Redskins of the National Football League and the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball, critics argued that the Eskimos team name is disrespectful and an appropriation of Indigenous identity and culture.

The term “Eskimo” — which, for many years, was understood to be an Algonquian term meaning “eaters of raw meat” — was used historically to denote Inuit. It has been considered offensive by many Indigenous peoples since the 1970s. In November 2015, Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, wrote an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail stating that the term was derogatory and a “relic of colonial power.” Obed asked that the franchise stop using the Eskimos name. The franchise invited Obed to meet in January 2016 to discuss the matter. In 2017, a national survey found that 57 per cent of respondents found the Eskimos name acceptable.

In 2018, the team hired the public relations firm Edelman, which spent two years researching public opinion about the name. In February 2020, the team announced that, “There were a range of views regarding the club’s name but no consensus emerged to support a name change. The club has therefore decided to retain its name.” The franchise also noted that, despite continued opposition to the name from the ITK and the Yellowknife-miut Inuit Katujjiqatigiit, other Inuit organizations approved of the team’s decision to keep the name. Duane Smith, chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC), said, “The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation does not take exception to the term Eskimo as it is not derogatory in any way. It was developed by a First Nations group to describe a group of Inuit they were aware of.” Jackie Jacobson, the MLA for Nunakput, and Lorne Kusugak, the MLA for Rankin Inlet South, also expressed support for retaining the name, as did the Inuit-owned Canadian North airline, which advertises itself as “the official airline of the Edmonton Eskimos.” The franchise also received support on the issue from residents of Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik, communities in the Northwest Territories that the team visits regularly. Janice Agrios, chair of the club’s board of directors, said, “We are the CFL’s most northern team and we want to continue to build our relationship with the Inuit community.”


Early History of Football in Edmonton

Various sports organizations in Edmonton (including baseball and hockey teams as well as football teams) have used versions of the Eskimos moniker (including Esquimaux) since the 1890s. The first Western Canadian team to play in the Grey Cup was the 1921 Edmonton Eskimos, coached by William Freeman “Deacon” White, a native of Sheridan, Illinois. They returned to the Grey Cup the next year after changing their name to the Edmonton Elks, following a sizable donation from the Elks service club. This time, the team got on the scoreboard with a rouge — a single point awarded to the kicking team in certain situations — in a 13–1 loss to the Queen’s University Rugby Club. (It was the only Grey Cup ever played in Kingston, Ontario.) They resumed the Eskimos name the following year but folded after the 1924 season due to financial problems. It would be 30 years before Edmonton reached another championship final.

The Eskimos were revived in 1928. They made Canadian football history in 1929 by scoring the first touchdown pass in the country, in which Pal Power caught a ball thrown by Joe Cook. The play covered 65 yards into the end zone. However, the team folded again after the 1932 season.

It wasn't until the building of Clarke Stadium in 1938 — named after former Edmonton mayor Joe Clarke — that the Eskimos football club resumed play. The team had a record of 0–8 that season under head coach Bob Fritz. Three years earlier, Fritz had led the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to become the first Western Canadian team to win a Grey Cup. But Fritz couldn’t recreate the magic in Edmonton. He followed his winless first season as coach with a 3–8 record in 1939. Any momentum for the club was lost during the Second World War. Another decade would pass before the cornerstone of the current franchise was laid.

Edmonton Eskimos (1949)

The current Edmonton Eskimos franchise was founded as a community-owned, not-for-profit endeavour in 1949, in what is now known as the modern era of Canadian football. The team was supported by a cast of future Hall of Famers: director Eric Duggan and head coach Annis Stukus, along with builders Kenneth Montgomery and Moses “Moe” Lieberman. The Eskimos were fuelled by having watched their rivals from Calgary win the Grey Cup in 1948. The new Edmonton Eskimos wore green and gold University of Alberta uniforms offloaded by dean of physical education Maury Van Vliet. The team was unsuccessful on the gridiron during its inaugural season. However, the roster included players who went on to find fame in other capacities: Peter Lougheed was elected as Alberta’s premier; Steve Paproski became a Member of Parliament; and Gene Kiniski found fame as a professional wrestler.

Norman L. Kwong
Official portrait of the Honourable Norman L. Kwong, Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta.

Edmonton Eskimos: The 1950s

It took the Edmonton team five years to rise to championship status in the CFL. Improving from a 4–10 record in 1949 to an even 7–7 the next season, the team earned a winning record of 8–6 in 1951, thanks in part to its acquisition of Norman Kwong from the Calgary Stampeders that year. The running back was part of Calgary’s 1948 Grey Cup championship as a rookie. He would go on to become the “China Clipper” and self-proclaimed “Living Legend” while wearing green and gold. Fellow future Hall of Famer Roland “Rollie” Miles was also brought on board that season. Edmonton reached its first Grey Cup final the following season, but lost 21–11 to the Toronto Argonauts.

Johnny Bright joined the backfield in 1954, alongside “Old Spaghetti Legs” quarterback Jackie Parker, adding to a cast of characters that would become known as the “Glory Gang.” The same season also ushered in Frank “Pop” Ivy, who earned an impressive 61–18 record as head coach. After going 11–5 in the regular season, Edmonton made it to that year’s Grey Cup. The tide of the game turned for the underdog Eskimos when Parker returned a fumble 90 yards for a touchdown — worth five points back then — to tie the heavily favoured Montreal Alouettes 25–25. Bob Dean kicked the winning convert to capture Edmonton’s first Grey Cup championship.

In 1955, Edmonton won its second championship in a row while playing in the first Grey Cup held west of Ontario. The team held the Alouettes scoreless in the first half on the way to a 34–19 victory in Vancouver’s Empire Stadium. They made it three in a row the following year, finishing 11–5 to edge out the Saskatchewan Roughriders for first place in the division. In the team’s last two playoff games that year, including the Grey Cup final, Ivy made the controversial decision to move Parker to running back and play Canadian Don Getty at quarterback. It paid off, leading to a 50–27 victory over the Alouettes.

The 1957 season marked the end of an era. Despite earning a 14–2 record, the Eskimos failed to score a touchdown in the playoffs during a best-of-three series loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The departure of coach Ivy after that season marked the beginning of the unravelling of the Glory Gang, even though Edmonton reached the West final in each of the next three years.


Edmonton Eskimos: The 1960s

The 1960s was the least memorable decade for the Eskimos and their fans. In 1960, the second year under head coach Eagle Keys, the old Glory Gang returned to the Grey Cup. They lost 16–6 to Russ Jackson’s Ottawa Rough Riders. This prompted Vancouver Sun columnist Denny Boyd to sign off on Edmonton's initial championship era with the phrase “The Eskimos are too old to cry and too proud to alibi. There were no tears and no lies in the dressing room when it was over.” Another 13 seasons would pass before the Eskimos played in another Grey Cup.

Throughout the 1960s, there was no guarantee the team would even last that long. It was in danger of disbanding like previous iterations of Eskimos football organizations. In 1964, the 28-member board of directors was replaced by a nine-person board in an effort to streamline decision-making at the executive level. Responsible for the entire payroll, they became known as the “Nervous Nine.” But thanks to various loans and fundraising initiatives like the Eskimo Annual Dinner, the club stayed afloat.

Coach Keys was fired in early 1964 after the team finished in last place in 1962 and 1963. Under his leadership (1959–63), the Eskimos went 37–40–2. He went on to coach the Saskatchewan Roughriders to their first Grey Cup championship three years later. He finished his CFL coaching career with a 146–115–8 record on his way to the Hall of Fame. Norm Kimball came in as the Eskimos general manager in 1965 to guide the rebuilding process. Together with Ray Newman, Kimball led the way in recruiting players from north and south of the border.


Edmonton Eskimos: The 1970s

After spending four seasons as Edmonton’s running back coach, Ray Jauch replaced head coach Neill Armstrong, who went on to join the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. In 1970, Jauch was named CFL Coach of the Year in his rookie campaign, which saw the Eskimos finish in second place with a 9–7 record. Two years later, thanks to the addition of quarterbacks Bruce Lemmerman and Tom Wilkinson, Jauch led the club back to the Grey Cup final for the first time since 1960. While they lost the 1973 Grey Cup to Ottawa by a score of 22–18, the Eskimos became a staple in the final. Over the span of a decade, Edmonton appeared in nine of 10 consecutive Grey Cup games and won six championships.

After losing the 1974 Grey Cup to the Montreal Alouettes by a score of 20–7, the Eskimos rebounded in 1975 to earn the club’s first championship in 19 years. On the strength of a 12–4 regular season, Edmonton once again faced the Alouettes. Montreal bobbled the snap on what would have been the game-winning field goal, and Edmonton held on to win 9–8 to end one of the longest droughts between championships in franchise history.

Winning Five Grey Cups in a Row (1978–82)

Edmonton lost the 1977 Grey Cup to the Montreal Alouettes by a score of 41–6. But the arrival of head coach Hugh Campbell that season set the Eskimos on a historic course. A year later, the 1978 Commonwealth Games saw the opening of the club’s new home at Commonwealth Stadium. This coincided with the arrival of quarterback Warren Moon, who was fresh off a Rose Bowl MVP with the University of Washington Huskies. The squad went 10–4–2 that season before earning a measure of revenge for the previous year’s lopsided Grey Cup embarrassment by defeating the Alouettes 20–13 in a championship rematch. It was the first of five consecutive titles under coach Campbell. Edmonton also defeated the Montreal Alouettes in 1979 (17–9), the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1980 (48–10), the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1981 (26–23) and the Toronto Argonauts in 1982 (32–16). This string of victories, together with the Edmonton Oilers’ championship run in the mid-1980s, contributed to the city’s moniker as Canada’s “City of Champions.”

Campbell left immediately after the 1982 season with a coaching record of 81–22–5. He took the head coaching job with the Los Angeles Express (United States Football League) for a year before joining the NFL’s Houston Oilers in 1984. Under Campbell, the Oilers won a bidding war for Warren Moon, paying the then-staggering price of $6 million over five years for the quarterback. Moon remains the only player to be enshrined in both the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.


Edmonton Eskimos: 1983–2000

In 1983, former Edmonton quarterback Jackie Parker returned to the team as head coach. He served in that capacity until health issues forced him to step down early in the 1987 season. Parker guided the team through a period of rebuilding, including a difficult roster transition after a host of retirements. Future Hall of Famers Damon Allen, Matt Dunigan and Tracy Ham filled the quarterback void left by Warren Moon. The new roster included a fan favourite in dynamic punt-returner Henry “Gizmo” Williams, with his signature front-flip touchdown celebration. Aside from one season with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 1989, “The Giz” remained with the Eskimos until 2000. His Hall of Fame career saw him retire from the CFL as the top kick returner of all time.

In 1986, Hugh Campbell returned to Canada from the NFL. He was named Edmonton’s general manager and eventually became president and CEO of the club. Under Campbell and head coaches Parker, Joe Faragalli, Ron Lancaster, Kay Stephenson and Don Matthews, the Eskimos played in five Grey Cups during this period, winning two (1987 and 1993). In 1986, Parker led Edmonton to its 17th Grey Cup appearance since 1949, resulting in a 39–15 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The following year, the team won the 1987 Grey Cup with a 38–36 win over the Toronto Argonauts. In 1989, the Eskimos established the high watermark with a CFL-best 16–2 regular-season record, only to fall 32–21 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division final.

The Eskimos went on to play in three more Grey Cup finals in the 1990s, defeating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 33–23 under Hall of Fame head coach Ron Lancaster in 1993 to capture the club’s 11th championship. Quarterback Damon Allen was named MVP of the game.


Edmonton Eskimos: 2000–Present

Following the 2000 season, Henry “Gizmo” Williams retired after setting more than 20 CFL records. The new millennium saw the Eskimos searching for a new face for the franchise, which arrived in 2002 from an unlikely source. Before joining the Eskimos, quarterback Ricky Ray was driving a truck for the Frito-Lay potato chip company, which led to the nickname “Frito Ray.” In his first season, he started 11 games after taking over for the injured Jason Maas. Despite his inexperience, the rookie quarterback helped an otherwise-veteran Edmonton squad reach the Grey Cup that year, only to fall 25–16 to the Montreal Alouettes in a sold-out Commonwealth Stadium.

The two teams met again for the 2003 final, with the Eskimos winning 34–22 to capture their first Grey Cup in a decade. Tom Higgins was named CFL Coach of the Year. The following season, Ray moved to the NFL and spent the 2004 season on the New York Jets practice roster. He returned to Edmonton in 2005 and once again took over for Maas, who led the way to a 9–9 record in 2004 to make the playoffs. With Ray back and Danny Maciocia taking over as head coach from Higgins, the Eskimos made an improbable run through the 2005 playoffs that saw Maas come off the bench to relieve Ray in the Western semifinal and final. For the third time in four years, Edmonton faced Montreal in the Grey Cup and won 38–35. It was only the second Grey Cup game to go into overtime.

In 2006, following mass retirements across the offensive line, the Eskimos finished 7–11. The team finished last in the West Division, missing the post-season for the first time since 1972. For the previous 34 years, the Eskimos had been a perennial playoff team, establishing a record among professional sports organizations across the continent.

In December 2011, Edmonton general manager Eric Tillman traded his face-of-the-franchise quarterback, Ray, to the Toronto Argonauts for quarterback Steven Jyles, kicker Grant Shaw and a 2012 first-round draft pick. The move was both highly publicized and criticized. Edmonton went on to make the playoffs that year by crossing over to the East Division with a 7–11 record, which set them up against Ray’s Argos in the East Division semifinal. Eight days before the game, Tillman was fired and Edmonton ended up losing 42–26, while the Argos went on to win the Grey Cup.

Tillman was replaced as general manager by former Eskimos all-star receiver Ed Hervey. Hervey became the club’s head scout after retiring from the field following the 2006 season. Hervey’s top priority was finding a starting quarterback, which he did when he acquired Mike Reilly from the BC Lions. The 2013 season saw the Eskimos finish 4–14, their worst record since the 1960s. In 2014, Chris Jones was hired as head coach, which led to a dramatic turnaround that saw the Eskimos finish 12–6 and host their second home playoff game in 10 years. They returned to the Grey Cup in 2015 to defeat the Ottawa Redblacks by a score of 26–20. Mike Reilly was named the game’s MVP. Eight days later, Chris Jones became general manager and head coach in Saskatchewan. Former Edmonton quarterback Jason Maas was named head coach in December 2015 and led the Eskimos to a 10–8 record and an appearance in the 2016 East Division final.


Edmonton Eskimos in the Grey Cup


Year

Won

Lost

Host City

1921

Toronto Argonauts 23

Edmonton Eskimos 0

Toronto

1922

Queen's University 13

Edmonton Elks 1

Kingston

1952

Toronto Argonauts 21

Edmonton Eskimos 11

Toronto

1954

Edmonton Eskimos 26

Montreal Alouettes 25

Toronto

1955

Edmonton Eskimos 34

Montreal Alouettes 19

Vancouver

1956

Edmonton Eskimos 50

Montreal Alouettes 27

Toronto

1960

Ottawa Rough Riders 16

Edmonton Eskimos 6

Vancouver

1973

Ottawa Rough Riders 22

Edmonton Eskimos 18

Toronto

1974

Montreal Alouettes 20

Edmonton Eskimos 7

Vancouver

1975

Edmonton Eskimos 9

Montreal Alouettes 8

Calgary

1977

Montreal Alouettes 41

Edmonton Eskimos 6

Montréal

1978

Edmonton Eskimos 20

Montreal Alouettes 13

Toronto

1979

Edmonton Eskimos 17

Montreal Alouettes 9

Montréal

1980

Edmonton Eskimos 48

Hamilton Tiger-Cats 10

Toronto

1981

Edmonton Eskimos 26

Ottawa Rough Riders 23

Montréal

1982

Edmonton Eskimos 32

Toronto Argonauts 16

Toronto

1986

Hamilton Tiger-Cats 39

Edmonton Eskimos 15

Vancouver

1987

Edmonton Eskimos 38

Toronto Argonauts 36

Vancouver

1990

Winnipeg Blue Bombers 50

Edmonton Eskimos 11

Vancouver

1993

Edmonton Eskimos 33

Winnipeg Blue Bombers 23

Calgary

1996

Toronto Argonauts 43

Edmonton Eskimos 37

Hamilton

2002

Montreal Alouettes 25

Edmonton Eskimos 16

Edmonton

2003

Edmonton Eskimos 34

Montreal Alouettes 22

Regina

2005

Edmonton Eskimos 38

Montreal Alouettes 35

Vancouver

2015

Edmonton Eskimos 26

Ottawa Redblacks 20

Winnipeg

Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame


Name

Position

Year Inducted

Damon Allen

quarterback

2012

Danny Bass

linebacker

2000

Al Benecick

offensive lineman

1996

Leroy Blugh

Johnny Bright

defensive lineman

running back

2015

1970

Hugh Campbell

builder

2000

Tommy Joe Coffey

wide receiver/place-kicker

1977

Rod Connop

offensive lineman

2005

Dave Cutler

kicker

1998

Eric Duggan

builder

1981

Matt Dunigan

quarterback

2006

Ron Estay

defensive end

2003

Bernie Faloney

quarterback

1974

Dave Fennell

defensive tackle

1990

Darren Flutie

wide receiver

2007

Gino Fracas

Brian Fryer

builder

wide receiver

2011

2013

Tracy Ham

quarterback

2010

Larry Highbaugh

defensive back

2004

Hank Ilesic

Brian Kelly

punter/place-kicker

wide receiver

2018

1991

Dan Kepley

linebacker

1996

Eagle Keys

builder

1990

Norm Kimball

builder

1991

Norman Kwong

running back

1969

Moses “Moe” Lieberman

builder

1973

Neil Lumsden

running back

2014

Don Matthews

builder

2011

George McGowan

wide receiver

2003

Danny McManus

quarterback

2011

Roland “Rollie” Miles

running back/defensive back/linebacker

1980

Derrell “Mookie” Mitchell

wide receiver

2016

Joe Montford

defensive end

2011

Kenneth Montgomery

builder

1970

Warren Moon

quarterback

2001

Frank Morris

offensive lineman/defensive lineman

1983

Cal Murphy

builder

2004

Roger Nelson

offensive lineman/defensive lineman

1986

Jackie Parker

quarterback/running back/wide receiver/kicker/punter

1971

James “Quick” Parker

linebacker/defensive end

2001

Elfrid Payton

defensive end

2010

Rudolph “Rudy” Phillips

offensive lineman

2009

Willie Pless

linebacker

2005

Mike Pringle

running back

2008

Joseph B. Ryan

Tom Scott

builder

wide receiver

1968

1998

Annis Stukus

builder

1974

Terry Vaughn

wide receiver

2011

Pierre Vercheval

Tom Wilkinson

offensive lineman

quarterback

2007

1987

Henry “Gizmo” Williams

punt returner/wide receiver

2006

Dan Yochum

offensive lineman

2004

William “Bill” Zock

offensive lineman

1984


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Further Reading

  • Stephen Brunt, 100 Grey Cups: This Is Our Game (2012)

  • Terry Jones, Epic Legacy of the Edmonton Eskimos (2016)

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