By Preston Yip : In hindsight, the BC Lion’s 2011 season conjured up memories of the legendary racehorse, Seabiscuit. Seabiscuit’s early record of 10 consecutive losses in 1935 gave no indication of his future prominence.
Fortuitously, the human factor, funding and training, increased the horse’s chance for success: a strong, stable investor with patience; a trainer with uncommon horse sense; a jockey with a fierce will to win.
History will show that that the triad of entrepreneur Charles Howard, trainer Tom Smith and jockey Red Pollard elevated Seabiscuit into a winner.
Similarly, the BC Lions faced adversity, early in the season, with 5 consecutive losses. Like Seabiscuit, the BC Lions had a strong triad: entrepreneur, David Braley; CEO, Bob Ackles and Dennis Skulsky; coachWally Buono.
In the face of a storm, there is often a call for change; a mechanism that would seem to solve the problem. In the Seabiscuit triad, the three key players had experienced hardship and adversity. Once their team was assembled, they had faith and patience. No radical changes were made to the team. The owner would be patient; the trainer would train; the jockey would ride.
Likewise, the BC Lions displayed the same calmness and common sense. Owner David Braley would be patient; coach Wally Buono would coach; the players would play.
Like many flat organizations, middle management carries a heavy responsibility for the success of its team. With Seabiscuit, the trainer changed his diet to add much needed muscle. The fine-tuning included putting a horse, in the next stall for companionship; and providing a dog, for extra company. The key ingredient that trainer Tom Smith noticed in Seabiscuit was his tough-mindedness, vibrancy and cocky intelligence.
Head Coach Wally Buono and his coaching staff were always acutely aware of their responsibilities: “Coaches ‘coach’ and players ‘play’.
As the middle management team, Head Coach Wally Buono and his coaching staff made two key changes: #1 Arland Bruce, Wide Receiver, and #11 Tad Kornegay, Defensive Back, were inserted into the starting line-up. Like Seabiscuit, these two players seem to display tough-mindedness, vibrancy and cocky intelligence.
Coincidentally, the BC Lions started to experience success, posting a remarkable record of 12 wins, 1 loss for the balance of the season, including a Grey Cup victory.
In fact, the Grey Cup win echoed Head Coach Wally Buono’s philosophy: “Coaches ‘coach’; ‘players ‘play’. After the coaches had reviewed and analyzed game films, followed by joint consultation, alterations, adjustments and fine-tuning were made. Individual coaches, each with their area of specialization, adopted strategies to strengthen the team.
Personnel changes had been made to the offensive line, defensive line, receivers, running backs, defensive backs and special teams. As professional athletes, each player understood the “team” concept would always be the priority. Line-up changes were the coaches’ domain.
The strategy of alternating the defensive line by coaches Mike Benevides and Randy Melvin, definitely paid dividends. A fresher group of linemen provided more up-front pressure, resulting in a harried quarterback/running back.
#96 Defensive Tackle, Khalif Mitchell, 6’ 5”, 315 lbs., strongly reflected one of Seabiscuit’s outstanding features. Seabiscuit enjoyed the “heat of battle” and needed to see the opponent, face-to-face, eyeball to eyeball. Then he would speed up, leaving the adversary behind.
Khalif Mitchell also enjoys the “heat of battle”. When aroused, Khalif explodes with energy, like an enraged bull, throwing away the usual calm of the “set position” prior to the snap of the football. Instead, Khalif throws down the gauntlet, gesturing to the opposing lineman, to step forward for the next collision.
Off the field, two former rivals, at the CFL Alumni Legends Luncheon rekindled the “heat of battle” dating back to the 1963 Grey Cup Game.
A controversial hit by #68 Angelo Mosca, 280 lb. Defensive Tackle, Hamilton Tiger Cats sidelined the BC Lions outstanding Half Back, #15 Willie Fleming, 185 lbs. #22 Joe Kapp, 212 lbs., Quarterback, was enraged at Mosca’s aggressive play and, eyeball to eyeball, finger to Mosca’s face, stated his case.
Following the injury to Willie Fleming, #61 Lonnie Dennis (Tuna), 230 lb. Right Tackle, threw down the gauntlet and challenged Mosca. With a Black Belt background, Dennis always played with a warrior mentality. Dennis did not hesitate to rise to the confrontation. Prior to the snap of the ball, Dennis turned his head to the left, eyeball to eyeball with Mosca, like Seabiscuit, exerting his will on his opponent.
It would seem that the rules of fair play and sportsmanship, is sacred to football players. Rule breaking can lead to an unsatisfactory win, sour taste and lingering memories.
The CFL record will show that the BC Lions Grey Cup win was a team effort. Offensively, #14 Travis Lulay, Quarterback, emerged as the Most Valuable Player, passing for 320 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions. #33 Andrew Harris, Running Back, won the Most Valuable Canadian Player Award, scoring 1 touchdown. #10 Kierrie Johnson, Slotback scored a 66 yard touchdown. #1 Arland Bruce, Slotback, scored a key 4th. quarter touchdown. #81 Geroy Simon, Slotback, caught 4 passes. #19 Paris Jackson, Slotback, caught 2 passes including a 30 yard reception. #85 Shawn Gore, Wide Receiver caught 3 passes. #88 Akeem Foster, Wide Receiver, caught a 12 yard pass.
Defensively, similar to the offence, the contributions reflected a team effort. #56 Solomon Elimimian, Middle Linebacker and #31 Dante Marsh, Corner Back led the way with 6 tackles. # 24 Korey Banks, Nickel Back and #42 Anton McKenzie, Linebacker, had 4 tackles. #9 Keron Williams, Defensive End, #27 J.R. LaRose, Safety and #26 Anthony Reddick, Nickel Back had 2 tackles.
Significantly, it was an offensive lineman, #65 Ben Archibald, Left Tackle, who made a key defensive play. #40 Odell Willis, Defensive End for Winnipeg, had anticipated a screen play and stepped forward to intercept the Lulay pass. Ben Archibald knocked the football out of Odell Willis’ grip, preventing a touchdown. The BC Lions and fans were stunned by the close call.
#4 Paul McCallum, kicker/punter, proved he was worthy of the Award, Most Outstanding Special Teams Player in the CFL. He contributed 16 valuable points: 4 field goals, 3 converts, 1 single. McCallum also punted strategically, giving the BC Lions favorable field position, averaging 44.3 yards.
The Kick Return duo of #35 Tim Brown and #33 Andrew Harris, Running Backs was successful in giving the BC Lions good field position.
The euphoria and taste of a “sweet” victory remains today. Like Seabiscuit, the BC Lions had to struggle through adversity. As #97 Brent Johnson, Defensive End, stated: “we really had to look at ourselves!”.
And while we bask in the BC Lions’ victory, we must not neglect the concept of the Grey Cup. This was a Canadian celebration, from coast to coast.
Fans of various ages, cultures, nationalities, male and female, proudly wore their respective CFL Team colors. Significantly, the myriad of Team colors, worn by fans, indirectly reflected the diversity of cultures and nationalities following the Grey Cup game. Indeed, the Grey Cup was a joyful cross-cultural event.
The CFL, sponsors, the 2011 Grey Cup Committee led by Moray Keith, Chairman and Scott Ackles, General Manager, volunteers and football fans across Canada, are to be commended.
The festive season has come early to British Columbia.