The Boneyard, also known as Commonwealth Stadium, sits on the hallowed ground that once hosted Edmonton Eskimo greats like Warren Moon, Damon Allen and Gizmo Williams . From 1978, when it opened, up to 1982, the road to the Grey Cup came through this stadium with a cast of characters winning five Grey Cups in a row. Characters that would do anything to win like Dan “Capt’n Crunch” Kepley and Dave “Doctor Death” Fennell who coined the phrase B.O.N.E or Brotherhood Of Nasty Eskimos to describe the Eskimos fraternity of warriors.
The Boneyard – Commonwealth Stadium
As these warriors fought, sweated and even spilled blood for each other in the first five years at Commonwealth, the stadium became the Boneyard for the opposition with the Edmonton Eskimos going 60-15-5. In fact, the Eskies have had home losing records in only six out of the last thirty-seven seasons while owning teams like the Saskatchewan Roughriders with a 25-6 record at the Boneyard. In the last two years the Riders were beat by the Esks 24-0 in 2014 and 30-5 in 2015 by the Eskies at home, but that was without Darian Durant at quarterback and some believe in Riderville that the jinx of Commonwealth can be reversed this year.
The truth is when the Riders and the Esks battle, magical things happen and that usually has Rider nation out in droves walking among the Boneyard faithful. Together both fan bases had the 5th all-time regular season attendance at 62,517 back in 2009 and have helped the Eskies lead the CFL in attendance eighteen out of the last twenty years.
The reality is that the Eskimos like when Rider fans come and donate their dollars to the Eskimos cause like they did back in 2013 with the then-largest single-game 50/50 jackpot of $127, 875. The money raised from the 50/50 is donated back to amateur football in North-Central Alberta.
Reinvesting In Community
Over the years the City of Edmonton together with the community-owned Eskimos have revamped Commonwealth to keep it a state of the art facility. In 2000, Clarke Stadium was rebuilt as a secondary stadium and the Eskimos practice field. In 2001, the stadium received a $24 million upgrade that included a new facade, a bigger concourse with more food and beverage choices, improved lighting and a new scoreboard. In 2009 the 90,000 square foot Field House was added that featured a 70-by-70 yard practice field, running track, weight room, new Eskimo locker rooms and an aquatic center. After the 2010 Grey Cup the Eskimos together with the City of Edmonton installed new seats along with a change to artificial turf. This has led to a resurgence of Eskimos staying year round in Edmonton like they did during Williams, Kepley and Fennell’s playing days.
Recently technology has played a role in the latest upgrades of the Boneyard starting with Wi-Fi for the social media hounds. This year the Eskimos have reached out to the younger fan base with virtual reality and a season launch party that featured Madden gaming against Eskimo players in the Quarterbacks Club. The Eskimos Ring of Honour will also be moved down to the lower bowl while the Eskimos will have a new LED board installed between the first and second seating tiers.
This Is Our House
In the last three years the new Eskimos have taken up the rallying cry of BONE not only in name, but in spirit to change the tone of the locker room. While many credit coaches for turning around the team from 4-14 to Grey Cup Champs, the truth it has been the players themselves that should be credited with that change.
Leaders like Mike Reilly and Odell Willis have worked to bring back the Eskimos the way of the brotherhood that Norm Kimball once instilled in the team via the phrase, “Once an Eskimo, Always an Eskimo“. The Eskimos tradition has its place and is not lost on the current roster of the Eskimos. What BONE means today, more than ever, is a standard of excellence to which the current crop of Eskimos are measured.
A standard is taught to rookies ensuring that they understand what it means to defend the turf that is Commonwealth Stadium against key rivals like the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders. It has led to a Grey Cup, back-to-back Most Outstanding Rookies in the last two years and a host of other individual accolades. The 2016 version of BONE is again being taught to the newest Eskimos like Kenny Ladler and Sam Montgomery. Players have shown tenacity in the preseason, but need to understand the level of controlled aggression and character that is also expected as part of The Eskimo Way. The type of character that proves the next ones are not just playing for themselves, but are ready to join the Eskimos family known as BONE. They commit fully to having each others back and to protect the Boneyard from all challengers.
More Than Toughness
The Eskimo Way is about more than toughness and winning on the football field, it is about a guild of men showing their character and commitment to the community that has embraced them. From Monday Morning Magic , to The Champions in the Community program and to players that receive the David Boone Award like what Ryan King did for his charity work in 2015. King exemplifies a leader, hard-nosed gladiator and the Eskimo Way by championing anti-bullying for children and anti-violence against women leading to him to being nominated by his teammates for the 2015 Jake Gaudaur Veteran’s Award. This too is the measurement of character that must be shown to be one of the few and proud members of BONE. A champion of the community, a fellow in the Brotherhood Of Nasty Eskimos and a defender of Boneyard via the Eskimo Way.
In an era where Eskimo fans seek entertainment as in-game experience and way to celebrate wins, they hope they too continue to show the Eskimo Way by donating at the Annual Tackle Hunger, Military Appreciation Night and Santa’s Anonymous games on the schedule. Let’s also hope they contribute to the Fort McMurray Fire Aid by taking in a concert, but most of all let’s hope the fans are inspired by the Eskimo Way to give their time to their communities.