Over the past four years, the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Elks have lost 21 consecutive home games. That mark, which they set with a 27-0 loss to the B.C. Lions on July 29 (their second shutout against B.C. this season), is a longer home losing streak than anything ever done in the four largest American pro sports. It surpassed the 20-game 1953 home losing streak of MLB’s St. Louis Browns (who promptly moved to Baltimore the next season). And some CFL fans have been there for every single one of those losses.
One fan who’s seen each of those losses in person (including the June 11 one against the Saskatchewan Roughriders seen at top, a 17-13 defeat), and will be in attendance Thursday night against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to see if the team can snap the streak, is Mike Smith-Knutsen. Smith-Knutsen, a co-host on the The Turf District Elks’ podcast who’s often described as “Superfan Mike” there (and goes by that on Twitter), recently spoke to The Comeback about watching all these losses in person. He said the losing streak has actually led to increased attendance at their pregame tailgate and halftime meetups.
“It’s been interesting to see how much the non-football part of the day has been part of the event,” Smith-Knutsen said. “We tailgate before every game, and we’re seeing more and more people coming, maybe just because they want positive emotions before the game. We also meet up at halftime, just a group of us, 20 or 30. There’s photographs floating around of just these large groups of people that just seem to get bigger and bigger as the loss streak has gone on.”
“We know that the team is losing. It’s certainly dominating the headlines, both in posts on social media and in the newspapers. And I don’t want to say we’re addicted to going to games, but we certainly have a connection with fans. And it seems like they want more happy football thoughts on gameday, so they certainly focus more on that kind of thing. Whereas before we might have 15-20 people show up at our tailgate, we’re getting numbers closer to 40 or 50, people wandering by and just talking football.”
On The Turf District, Smith-Knutsen is known for his discussions of Edmonton CFL history. This current franchise has been in existence since 1949, five years before the essential creation of the CFL in 1954 when the Grey Cup went to exclusively being contested by professional teams, and nine years before the league officially came into existence in 1958.
And there were many Edmonton teams before that, too. Those even include one briefly known as the Elks (but not officially considered part of the current team’s history), which went to the Grey Cup under that name in 1922, losing to the Queen’s University Golden Gaels. Smith-Knutsen said looking back at Edmonton football history has given him plenty of appreciation for how there have always been good and bad times.
“My role, especially on our podcast, is just the history. I’ve been doing a lot of the Edmonton football history for many years now. So it’s been trying to find positives in all of these things and then share that with everybody.”
He said it hasn’t been easy to watch a team with Edmonton’s impressive history (including 14 Grey Cup wins from the current franchise, and five straight from 1978-1982) go through this dark span, but it’s certainly not the first long period of struggles in teams history.
“It’s been tough. But at the same time, because I am so familiar with the history, and when it’s on that roller-coaster: the 1960s are known as the ‘Dark Decade’ here in Edmonton, certainly before my time, but I’ve certainly heard and researched enough about it. So it’s a little easier knowing what great things came in the 70s and early 80s for the team, where we had those nine appearances in 10 years in the Grey Cup, nine first-place finishes, five [Grey Cups] in a row, et cetera, et cetera.”
Smith-Knutsen said other CFL teams have gone through notable droughts, too.
“As well as seeing it with other teams; Calgary did so poorly [including three straight playoff-less seasons from 2002-04], Winnipeg hadn’t won a Grey Cup in 29 years [1990-2019] and then went three times [winning two], and it certainly helps with perspective.”
But he said the Elks’ current struggles are still remarkable.
“That being said, it is the worst record of a team at home. And we lose the next game, we will tie a team record for most consecutive losses, home or away. We’ve never started a season 0-6, let alone 0-8. So you are seeing a lot of historical things.”
Smith-Knutsen said continuing to go to games and support the teams is going to be a source of some pride when things get better, though.
“When this does turn around, and everything always turns around, it’s a little better knowing ‘I was there in the bad times, and now I’ll be here in the good times.'”
Another unusual element with this Elks’ home losing streak is how much time it spans. This team last won at home on Oct. 12, 2019, which was three head coaches and two team names ago. Smith-Knutsen said the time this has taken (largely because the CFL canceled its 2020 season over COVID-19 restrictions in Canada) has certainly made an impact on fans, including on his son.
“I think it’s one of those things because we had that COVID-lost year in 2020, I have an 11-year-old son, and it’s hard for him to remember a home win because it’s been so long. Because when that happened he was seven, and now he’s 11. But he’s still excited to go every game day. But it’s tough, because you get sort of excited, and then it’s halftime, and then that second half comes, and it just seems to go away.”
“I think had this not been with the COVID year, had this been 21 games over two seasons, maybe losing 10 and then losing 11, but when it’s four years, even if it’s only three seasons, that does make it a lot tougher. We’re talking a different quarterback, almost a completely different team, different head coach, different general manager, different president, different board members. It’s almost completely different, and yet the results are the same.”
Another remarkable element with the Elks’ current struggles is that they’re coming under general manager, head coach, and defensive coordinator Chris Jones, who has held those three roles since 2022. Jones has coached mostly in the CFL since 2002 (he’s also worked in the NFL, college, and high school ranks), and he found great success in his previous stint as head coach in Edmonton from 2014 to 2015, winning the Grey Cup that latter year. Smith-Knutsen said it’s surprising to see this stint going so poorly for Jones after his previous success, but one issue may be Jones wearing more hats now.
“It’s different now obviously than it was in 2014-15,” he said. “Then, Chris Jones was the head coach and defensive coordinator and we had Ed Hervey as our general manager, versus now where Chris wears those three hats and doesn’t really have anyone outside of the board of directors and the president to be able to sort of check him down.”
Smith-Knutsen said he respects Jones’ football acumen, though. He doesn’t think the Elks’ current issues are all about the coaching, and he has some hope around some of the recent moves Jones has made, including reassigning offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo to a consultant role and promoting quarterbacks coach Jarious Jackson to handle the OC role as well.
“I always say that [Jones] has forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, and people like that don’t just get stupid over night,” Smith-Knutsen said. “But to me, it’s not the coaching; I think it’s just a personnel issue, and maybe they’re not executing the way he is. And of course, we got the news about the shakeup, and Jarious Jackson was the offensive coordinator for Toronto in 2021 when they were the No. 1 team in the East, so there’s certainly a lot of positives looking forward. We will see if that’s what turns it around, or if this is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Smith-Knutsen said overall, he’s optimistic he’ll one day be able to look back on this time as something that made the Elks’ eventual turnaround better.
“The one thing I’ve been telling myself throughout all this is that the good times are going to be that much sweeter for us having gone through the bad times. I’ve talked to a lot of fans that were big fans in the 60s and would watch us lose year after year. We missed the playoffs four years in a row from ’62 to ’65, we did have that 13-loss streak between ’63 and ’64 that we still haven’t matched yet. A lot of bad times in there, not a lot of hope. We didn’t have a quarterback. And we just got so great. And I think I took for granted all the wins we had for so many years, making the playoffs six years in a row, that I’m going to appreciate it even more having had these last four years.”