Edmonton Eskimos

Dynasty - 1978-1982

-Remembering the last dynasty of the CFL-The Sports Network-May 10, 2010-


With training camp but a few weeks away, the one question everyone wants answered is, who's the favorite this year?

Usually based on some sort of analytical conglomerate of speculation, we try and project roster depth and player potential in an effort to crown a preseason winner.


The benefit of such hypocrisy - and by the end of the year, that's exactly what it will sound like - is for fans and media alike, to find a team that can be measured against as the season unfolds.


Finding a favorite is easy - a dynasty, however, that's a different animal altogether. What with free agency and salary cap roster management, the notion of assembling a team built for winning today and beyond, is both daunting and near-extinct.


But according to Neil Lumsden, a former running back for one of the greatest teams in sports history, money doesn't tell half the story.


From 1978 to 1982, the Edmonton Eskimos reigned supreme on the Canadian Football League, winning five straight titles, a feat that has since gone unmatched in North American sports.


Lumsden said he credits Hugh Campbell - considered one of the greatest coaches in CFL history, having led the Eskimos to six consecutive first-place finishes, six straight Grey Cup appearances and five straight Cups - with assembling a team, and not just a group of players.


"I remember hearing many times, 'Look, we don't just bring players in here, we bring people that are going to be Eskimos, which means you have to be more than just a good football player," Lumsden told The Sports Network. "You had to be a real good person and understand what they were trying to do."


And what they were trying to do turned out to be pretty special.


Led by a menacing defensive corps and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, Campbell found the winning formula in just his second season on the sidelines with Eskimos.


Lumsden, the East Division's Most Outstanding Rookie in 1976 as a member of the Toronto Argonauts, recalled the circumstances that led to his joining Edmonton in 1980, after they had already won back-to-back titles over the Montreal Alouettes.


"I remember Hugh Campbell saying to me, 'You know, we tried to get you a year before in a trade that didn't happen, because we think you're an Eskimo,'" he said. "And his definition of an Eskimo was not just a football player, it wasn't just a good guy. It was a combination of things.


"Even when they were recruiting in the States, they were finding guys that didn't just have great talent, they found guys that fit systems that we played, that our coaches employed.


"Everyone I played against were quality guys. I just think we had more of them."

The key, Lumsden said, was buying into the idea that winning was more fulfilling than individual accomplishments. A mindset some would say is easier said than done.


"When you're in an environment like we were in Edmonton, it was about winning, it wasn't about your stats," he explained. "All of the other stuff comes when you win."

Indeed it does.


Named the 1981 Grey Cup's Most Outstanding Canadian, Lumsden is familiar with the perils of individual success and how the emphasis on such can negatively affect a team's chances of staying together for an extended run.


"I think I always felt that, and I think I understood, it was about winning," said Lumsden, who also won a championship in 1999 as general manager of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. "It wasn't about the 100-yard rushing. If that comes with the win, then that's great. But it's about the wins, because it's about everybody, it's not about me.


"When you look at it in the big picture, you think, stats are only important when you are giving out the big awards. And as one of the guys said at one of the Grey Cups we were at, when we had a bunch of guys up for awards and they didn't win, 'It's about the one they don't vote on versus the one they do.'"


Since the Eskimos' fifth straight Cup in '82, nine CFL franchises have won the league's top prize, and only Toronto (1996-97) has repeated as champions. And more recently, the league has seen six different teams claim the last six titles.


Lumsden admitted the feat of winning five consecutive championships is unlikely to occur anytime soon, citing the overused, yet seemingly never-more- applicable cliche that the Eskimos built a family first, dynasty second.


"Most of us, almost all of us, stayed in Edmonton in the offseason. When you are around a lot, and there is a closeness, there's something special that happens if you've got the right chemistry and right group of people."


Despite their domination, he said he never felt like the team fell victim to a negative envy, an ever-apparent argument within the topic of dynasties. In fact, Lumsden believes they serve a critical role in generating excitement for the sport.


"I think it created an interest when it started to roll, that 'Can they do it again? Can they do it again?' and ultimately, 'Who's going to knock them off?' This is something everyone thought was pretty special.


"And I always think it's a good thing when something in your country, whether it's a league or a player, can set a standard like that in professional sport.


"It resonates."