Lions hope to avoid season going up in smoke

Jeremiah Johnson spent his formative years in the dustbin known as Los Angeles and therefore knows a smoggy day when he sees one.

That doesn’t mean the tailback of the B.C. Lions likes it much, however, and why a win Saturday would be one of not only overcoming adversity but also adverse air quality.

B.C. players are like just about everyone else in western Canada these days in that they are hoping for a break in atmospheric conditions that nearly postponed a CFL game last weekend in Edmonton.

It’s been business as usual for nearly two full weeks worth of practice sessions for the Lions despite the conditions resulting from the wildfires burning throughout the region, and coach Wally Buono is going out of his way not to discuss the topic in detail lest he provide his players an excuse not to produce at work. A day or two of smoky skies in August, he suggested, is just like a week of monsoon rain that is surely on its way this fall in the Lower Mainland.

If the Lions get past the Saskatchewan Roughriders inside the smoke-free confines of B.C. Place Stadium this weekend, it will be partly because of the conditioning insisted upon by Buono that is helping them overcome atmospheric obstacles.

“Our effort doesn’t describe … our record,” Johnson said of the 3-5 Lions. “I think we’re the only team that run gassers on Day One. We got smoke in the air and we’re still out here working our butts out. Easily we could say ‘no, we’re not going to practice, we’re having a mental day,’ but we’re out here sacrificing our lungs for the greater deal and that’s to win this game.”

In lieu of an indoor practice facility like the one in Edmonton, players are being forced to deal with the smoke in their own way. One showed up to practice Wednesday in a modified balaclava.

The conditions might also be getting to some coaches too. Special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold, who wears a mic during workouts to communicate, let everyone within blocks know his assessment of the Lions’ work during one drill.

“Start practicing like professionals,” Reinebold bellowed at one point this week. “You’re practicing like a 3-5 team right now.”

The weather and a disappointing loss to Toronto is getting to everyone, it seems.

“This weather is horrible; it’s ruining my kids’ last weeks of summer. They want to go outside and play,” said Johnson. “When it comes to Wally, hey, you’re going to go out there when it’s rain or snow, what’s the difference in this? You may have a little cough after practice but it’s moulding us to be a great team.”

If they don’t soon form to become even a .500 team, the Lions’ playoff hopes might be doused by Labour Day. B.C. has played 18 games, or an entire regular season schedule, since last facing the Riders at home. Their record during that stretch: 5-13.

“This is damn-near playoff time. There’s no more nails to be put in our own coffin,” Johnson said.

LIONS TALES: Micah Awe had only minimal work on scout teams during his first practice Wednesday and with the Lions about to hit their third and final bye week after this weekend it’s more than likely he’ll be given more time for conditioning before making his season debut.

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.