Remembering 2000: Lions looking for another upset of Stamps

It’s a small league and parallels aren’t often hard to discover but the more Jamie Taras thought about it, the easier he locked into another watershed moment with the B.C. Lions they hope might start to look more familiar this weekend.

Few outside their Surrey compound realistically give them a chance in the CFL’s West Division final Sunday, considering the 15-2-1 record of the Calgary Stampeders and their all-star lineup.

Then again, nobody gave Taras (above) and his B.C. teammates a snowball’s chance when he and the Lions travelled to McMahon Stadium in the same game in 2000. And there’s a few more who will be also around Sunday on the sidelines who can verify the validity of that claim.

Taras was still quick to point out several differences between the current edition of the Lions and the one he played for in 2000 as an immovable force in the centre of the Lions offensive line.

“This team is better; they’ve been way more consistent,” said the team’s current director of community relations. “That (2000) team formed really late whereas this team has been formed. The obstacle is about as high though, going into hostile territory and all that.

“But what the outside world thinks and the inside are often two different things.”

And that’s just the first parallel between the two scenarios.

Though this year’s Lions have a win against Calgary and believe they should have had a second, the Stampeders delivered a devastating message when they beat B.C. 37-9 at B.C. Place Stadium in their last meeting Aug. 19, and have held Sunday’s opponent without an offensive touchdowns in four of their last six matchups.

Back in 2000, the Stampeders won all three meetings. They dominated with a superior aerial attack against a B.C. defensive secondary consisting of a couple of veterans, Eric Carter and Bo Lewis, and two rookies, Kelly Snell and Central McLellion. This year’s group, which includes Ryan Phillips and Brandon Stewart along with rookies Chandler Fenner and Anthony Gaitor, can likely relate.

B.C. had a dominant ground game, led by Sean Millington and Robert Drummond, operating behind Damon Allen in 2000, not unlike what Jon Jennings now has in Jeremiah Johnson and Anthony Allen.

And when the 2000 Lions showed up at a half-empty McMahon, which failed to fill despite the offer of free tickets from the Stamps with the purchase of seats for the Grey Cup the following week, the Lions knew they had a chance.

Sure enough, a hit on the knee of quarterback Dave Dickenson by Herman Smith that would have surely result in his ejection this year was the turning point in a 37-23 win by the Lions over Wally Buono’s Stamps. It had only slightly less drama than the frosty 1994 B.C. win over was Calgary, and much different result from the last time the teams met in Calgary to decide a Grey Cup finalist.

In 2008, the Stampeders pulled out a 22-18 win in what turned out to be Dickenson’s final season as a player and also the last CFL sighting of Cam Wake. All B.C. could muster was six Paul McCallum field goals.

B.C.-Calgary matchups in the playoffs haven’t been close lately. The Lions haven’t beaten the Stamps in four post-season outings since the upset in 2000 and are 3-9 against Calgary in the playoffs overall. But the Lions prefer to operate in the belief similar to that of Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber: There’s a chance.

This year, Buono feels his team showed its true colours after a pair of dispiriting losses to Winnipeg.

“After the Winnipeg loss we said ‘show us who you really are; are you pretenders or are you for real’?” Buono said. “Since then we have the longest winning streak of any team playing in the playoffs and that shows me I believe were for real.”

Perhaps, but Calgary has the productive quarterback in the CFL with Bo Levi Mitchell and his 32 touchdown passes, plus the most productive runner in Jerome Messam, with his 1,198 yards and 11 scoring runs. And the Lions may not have their best receiver, Manny Arceneaux, who could pass concussion protocol after absorbing a wicked hit from Winnipeg’s Taylor Loffler but was still seen hobbling Tuesday from a sprained ankle suffered on the first play of the West semifinal.

The Lions are hoping they still have just a little history on their side anyway.

Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.