Clock ticking on perplexing Lions
In the run-up to a defining game for a team that’s still impossible to define, a group of veterans addressed the
B.C. Lions this week.
Their message — everything we’ve worked for this CFL season is still in front of us — is about what you’d expect this time of year. But the more interesting, and telling, aspect of the lockerroom oratory were the players who did the talking.
There was the quarterback, Travis Lulay, whose left shoulder is held together with duct tape and paper clips. There was running back Jeremiah Johnson, who’s ceding his job as the feature back to Tyrell Sutton for tonight’s meeting with the Stampeders. There was fullback Rolly Lumbala, who’s rushed for three yards on two carries this season. And there was tackle Joel Figueroa who’s now played 14 games in his storied Lions’ career.
These four players also help make up the core of the Lions’ leadership group that might explain the erratic nature of this season. But whatever else they are, the Leos are on a 4-1 run, they have four games left on their schedule and a playoff berth is hanging in the balance.
True, after 14 games, their head coach still isn’t certain what he has with this team but, beginning Saturday at McMahon Stadium, he’ll start to find out.
Hell, we all will.
“I don’t know yet,” Wally Buono said as the Lions went through their final walkthrough Friday.
“Here. Ask me on Sunday. Seriously. You have to step up sometime. You can’t keep waiting. This team has waited long enough.”
And, to paraphrase the late great Tom Petty, that waiting has been the hardest part for coach Buono.
While this game comes equipped with some readymade storylines — Buono’s final regular-season trip to Calgary where he coached for 13 seasons; his meeting with Stamps’ head coach
Dave Dickenson, whom Buono coached in Calgary and Vancouver; his relationship with Stamps’ GM John Hufnagel which goes back three decades — the old Lion is only concerned with one thing.
“All that other stuff is great,” he said. “But I’m here to win a football game.”
How he goes about doing that is the next question because, over the last 10 years, McMahon has been as hospitable to the Lions as the Bates Motel was to Janet Leigh.
Since Hufnagel took over the Stamps in 2008, the Lions have gone 5-11 in Calgary with a nifty 0-3 mark in the playoffs. Still, this will be a different Stampeders team facing the Lions, largely because they figure to be missing four starting receivers. But the Lions will also have a different look Saturday because, well, they seem to have a different look for each game.
In this week’s makeover, Sutton steps in for Johnson as the feature ball-carrier while Johnson supplants
Chris Rainey as the return man and backup running back. The Lions will try to get both players on the field in some packages but the larger goal for the offence is a more physical running game that has been Sutton’s calling card in his five-plus CFL seasons.
“You’re not going to win in October or November unless you can run the football,” said Buono. “See that wind (gusting to 35 km/h Friday)? It’s going to be colder (Saturday). You have to be physical and when we’re physical, we win. When we’re not physical we lose.”
To that end, Figueroa becomes a key cog in the run game. The 6-6, 320-pound tackle from Miami isn’t exactly loquacious but he’s a presence and he’s emerged as a leader this season.