It started like every pre-season game but thanks to a surprise retirement and a failed attempt to entertain there was more than enough meat on the proverbial bone to make a sandwich out of the B.C. Lions’ 42-10 pre-season win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders Friday.
Some points to ponder:
Beginning of the end: There was something unusual about the post-game locker room as there was way too much emotion being displayed by the Lions given the game’s relevance. Jason Arakgi was surrounded by his teammates, hugging one and all, game ball in hand. The CFL’s career special teams tackling leader had just announced his retirement. The timing had the look of a decision by a 10-year CFL veteran who had just realized he didn’t want to go through another season but also seemed odd because Arakgi had just called it quits after finishing another set of two-a-day workouts and three weeks of training camp.
In fact, the 32-year-old had decided only on Thursday to take a job offer with a medical equipment sales company, Stryker Medical, and made a career move virtually on the spot.
“It was that time in my career. I can’t thank this organization enough. It’s been such a blessing to be here for 10 years. It broke my heart saying goodbye to these guys and football. I’ll never forget all the things I’ve learned since I’ve been here,” Arakgi said.
“It’s not the most ideal situation to go through a training camp. It was about giving the Lions as much notice as possible. I might not have been the best football player to walk around but I truly have one of the biggest hearts. I truly love the guys and I hope they remember that about me.”
It’s occasionally around this time of year when teams are faced with making a hard call on a veteran but the decision by Arakgi leaves the Lions with an unexpected dilemma. The player most likely to benefit from the retirement is first-year SFU product Jordan Herdman, but the Lions are losing a supreme locker-room presence after already punting Ryan Phillips during the off-season.
“I don’t think people realize the impact Jason has in the locker-room. Selfishly speaking, I told him I was upset with him,” said linebacker Solomon Elimimian, grinning. “He’s a Hall of Famer in my opinion. It’s going to be tough without him.”
Slaying the dragon: For two years a sack by defensive lineman Craig Roh brought out a signature response that apparently didn’t offend anyone, when he would pull out a mythical sword in a manner familiar to King Arthur.
In his first game of his third season, Roh found out political correctness has been redefined to the absurd. Roh was penalized following sacks on successive plays and vowed to ask the league and CFLPA why the move was suddenly disallowed.
Boris Velcic, a league supervisor, told reporters that Roh was flagged for simulating the use of a weapon. Roh was incredulous after the game.
“I completely disagree with this. I’ve been building a great dance around this. It’s not malicious. It’s an imaginary sword. We just need to get out of this politically-correct mantra we’re in right now. We’re leaning too far the other way,” he said.
“Can you say the violence of it will somehow go into a deep psychological crevice in someone’s mind, and a school gets shot up? The majority of people have the capacity to understand that its an imaginary sack dance that nobody needs to freak out about.”
It turned out to be anything but an ordinary pre-season game, indeed.
The real story: Lost amid everything else was the fact the three B.C. defensive ends combined for four sacks and offered hope the Lions can get pressure from their front four and not rely on applying heat from their linebackers, as had become the norm.
“We got a ridiculous defensive line,” said Roh, who figures to line up alongside returnees Mich’ael Brooks and Bryant Turner, along with newcomer DeQuin Evans. “Coming into my third year I feel like I’m really growing as a player. You really can’t single in on one guy.”
Quarterback Jon Jennings was on point, engineering three first-half scoring drives with first-unit players surrounding him. B.C also produced 21 points off turnovers. The Lions only had a league-low nine interceptions last year.
The only question left for the Lions to ponder was whether free agent kicker Swayze Waters will be ready to start the season. Waters is dealing with quad tendinitis and was limited Friday to kicking converts and could start the season on the injured-list. Rookie Ty Long (Alabama-Birmingham), who connected on two-of-three field goal attempts, could start the season as the surprise starter, just like Arakgi ended exhibition play with a surprise of his own.