My dad became a season ticket holder for the Edmonton Eskimos (EE) in 1959. I cannot say when he first became a loyal Eskimos fan, but I can tell you that the association of my father with the EE was indelibly imprinted upon the hearts of all those who attended his memorial service in 1981. My father died in June of that year. My cousin Sandy made it clear in his eulogy that my father would not want any service to get in anybody’s way of sitting back with a beer and watching an Eskimos game.
I was born in 1958. I cannot tell you exactly when I became a big Eskimos fan, but I must have been pretty serious about it by 1970. In 1970, 1971 and 1972, when I was 12, 13 and 14, respectively, I produced what might be called “yearbooks” of the Canadian Football League (CFL), starring the Edmonton Eskimos, as the front covers announced. A typical yearbook consisted of “the memo,” which was about 30 pages of solid (no paragraph breaks) handwritten description of everything that happened in the CFL that year. There were depth charts, odds n’ ends (statistics and player moves), team standings, scores and, best of all, the standings pool. Every year I would collect 50 cents from every relative I could charm the cash out of and get a prediction for the final team standings for the year. Then I’d create a pool. All the money–usually about $5.50–went to the person who was closest to the actual final standings.
My recollection was that I did not start going to Eskimos games with my dad until I was 14 or 15. From there, my love of the Eskimos increased. Seeing the games in person at Clarke Stadium and, later, at Commonwealth Stadium, only intensified the relationship over the years. It’s been well over 40 years, but I can still remember the taste and feel of the hot dogs wrapped in foil, the watery hot chocolate and the pain in my feet as the temperature dropped below zero. Still, we remained faithfully in our seats, win or lose. I still remember the voice of Bryan Hall on the post-game radio show as we drove home. I even remember the faces of the two suave (think 70s handlebar moustaches and sheepskin coats) older guys (maybe late 20s) who sat with their girlfriends in the row ahead of us.
My parents moved to Vancouver in 1977 and, for a short, but glorious time, the season tickets were mine. My father’s loyalty to the Eskimos never faltered with the move and neither did mine when I followed them to the West Coast two years later. Those season tickets were then passed on to my brother via loan. When I did not return to Edmonton as originally intended, due to minor matters such as marriage, a career and better weather, the tickets were officially made my brother’s. It has now been nearly 60 years that the Waitt family has had season tickets to see the Edmonton Eskimos. However, I can no longer say that they are the same seats, as my brother changed seat locations a couple of years ago. I was not pleased with what it did to our legacy, but I got over it.
Fast forward 37 years from the move to the “wet” coast, when I had recently left Vancouver for the Great White North, as my brother calls it. Whitehorse had now been my new home for a little over three months and it was the day I was marrying Jennifer Moorlag at the United Church in downtown Whitehorse. Approximately 150 people attended. Wonderful ceremony. After the usual hugging, handshakes and chatting outside the church, I was standing around with my daughter (unfortunately, she has not picked up the family EE torch) when I suddenly realized, “OMG. I forgot to tape the Eskimos game today!”
My daughter and I rushed back home and recorded the game for later, then headed to the reception. It wasn’t until months later that I discovered that, not only had I left my bride at the church, but so had everyone else at the ceremony, except a family friend who was our shuttle driver. Jennifer and I retell that story and laugh at it often. My mother-in-law was not as amused at that particular incident. Clearly, she was not an EE fan either.
Obviously my love of the CFL and the Edmonton Eskimos has not diminished through the many years that I lived away from Edmonton. In fact, my passion for the EE has increased. I occasionally meet other EE fans, but none with the knowledge and fervor for the team that my brother and I have.
Players, coaches and general managers come and go. There have been five Grey Cup victories in a row and then years which were painful to watch, but my loyalty to the Eskimos will never waver.
Hopefully they will bury me in green and gold.