They’re out there, somewhere.
Roaming around Ontario for a week not long after being out of B.C. Place Stadium for the better part of a month, it’s easy to think the B.C. Lions are some kind of travelling road experiment and not actually for real, but make no mistake about their 6-3 record and a wonderfully unexpected start to Wally Buono’s return season.
The first half of the CFL regular season schedule has produced the type of results that might actually get people thinking about a home game in mid-November for the first time in a while. Ask yourself if that seemed possible two months ago when the Lions assembled in Kamloops.
So, mindful that nobody really asked, faster than an arbitrator’s ruling and only somewhat as annoying as another challenge flag, we present the following half-baked review about the Lions’ first half heading into Wednesday Night Football against the Toronto Argonauts:
Biggest win: Like a first kiss, nothing beats knocking off a division rival like the Lions did when they held on to beat Calgary 20-18 June 25. Everything they went on to accomplish in the first half was set up by what they did on opening night at home.
Worst loss: If you take the premise that the Lions aren’t yet in Calgary’s weight class, and that’s a tough stance considering they nearly took down the Stamps on the road, the other most disappointing setback was the 25-14 home setback July 4 against Toronto, clearly a beatable opponent. Hard to overlook the 37-9 beatdown Aug. 19 against Calgary too of course, but at least against the Argos they had a chance.
Two thumbs up: To a 4-1 record on the road. David Braley can’t mind the cost of charter aircraft with those kind of results.
Two thumbs down: To a 2-2 record at home. More important than fat TV ratings, playing winning football at B.C. Place Stadium remains the team’s best chance of restoring the dome as a fortress.
Biggest surprise: Plenty of candidates here. Mike Edem has made more plays at safety in the first half than J.R. LaRose made his entire Lions career, but you knew that was possible. Same too for Bryan Burnham, who is seizing the opportunity resulting from the loss of Nick Moore. Nobody, however, could have predicted the emergence of Loucheiz Purifoy at nickelback and the effect on Mark Washington’s defence. Props also to Alex Bazzie and his eight sacks.
Biggest concern: If you were coaching the Lions you could undoubtedly find several but the play of the offensive line has to be at or near the top. Jon Jennings and Travis Lulay aren’t blessed with a playbook from Khari Jones that offers a lot of short-passing relief, but they aren’t going to be able to complete even those attempts if they are forced to scramble as was the case against Ottawa.
The good news is that the Lions have some of the parts available already on the roster. Hunter Steward is by no means washed up despite being demoted. Charles Vaillancourt had a promising start. B.C. has two moves it can make to boost the right side of the protection unit simply by getting cozy with suitable backups.
Biggest on-field disappointment: Two games isn’t a huge sample size and the road to recovery from a terrifying training camp injury isn’t yet complete, but the early play of Levy Adcock isn’t commensurate with his free-agent billing.
Biggest off-field disappointment: Surely it has to be the attendance numbers in the first half, as it can clearly be stated that the team on the field has done its part. The decline was perilous last year but through four openings in 2016 the Lions are down another 1,599 in total attendance. The theory that win and they’ll return so far hasn’t proven to be accurate, even though five home dates after Labour Day holds out promise. Simply put, the Lions have to find out what else is keeping the paying customer at home and driving up television ratings.
Best moment: Face it, being stuck on the road when the weather radar on the team charter is on the fritz can bring out the worst in people. Instead it provided the Lions a bonding moment better and bigger potentially than their current foray into eastern Canada. The video of the jam session at Mirabel following the Aug. 4 road win against Montreal was classic.
Best tweet: Marco Iannuzzi asking Justin Trudeau if he would like tickets to see Lions-Ottawa last week., then going on a trek through Parliament Hill stalking the PM, who happened to be in China. Want to know why this guy went to Harvard? Here’s someone thinking about life after football any chance he gets.
Best first-half coach of the year: Mike O’Shea in Winnipeg would get some votes for caving into making a quarterbacking change but the hands-down winner has to be the guy who didn’t know he had it in him after the 2011 Grey Cup. Undeniably Buono has had some kind of influence on the Lions.
Biggest wish: Surely for the head man and his team it has to be one more crack at Calgary in the playoffs. On to the second half.