Lions vets savouring second chances Sunday

The most poignant display of an athlete trying to explain the anguish of trying to achieve success once witnessed with the B.C. Lions came from Dave Dickenson after the 2004 Grey Cup game .

In a steamy dressing room in Ottawa, the Lions quarterback of the day responded emotionally after a vexing loss to the Toronto Argonauts when it was suggested in a consoling manner his team had the proper components to mount a similar challenge next year.

“People don’t understand,” Dickenson responded, his voice quivering. “They don’t understand just how much of an effort it is to get this far. You have to start all over again.”

There are two players with the Lions this year who do understand quite well that playoff appearances cannot be taken for granted. If Travis Lulay and Tyrell Sutton don’t maximize a rare opportunity Sunday when the Lions meet the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Division semifinal, their playoff run will be short-lived again.

Lulay will be making his first playoff start for the Lions since 2013 and on the road to becoming a medical marvel admits it is an appearance he thought might never arrive again.

The last post-season start for the 35-year-old went well for about three quarters on a windswept day on the prairies against the Saskatchewan Roughriders until the Lions under defensive coordinator Rich Stubler forgot Darian Durant could run. Kevin Glenn and Jon Jennings began behind centre in every playoff game since.

Earlier that same day in ’13, Sutton was with the Montreal Alouettes playing the Ticats in Guelph, Ont., in a game that has been his only post-season appearance which came to be known for two only-in-the-CFL moments.

They included a Sean Whyte field goal attempt was actually blown backwards by the wind, plus a late-game non-call of a Montreal pass to Duron Carter. That goal-line officiating blunder eventually prompted the league to allow defensive pass interference to be challenged.

“Remember that bleep like it was yesterday…the invisible shield on the field goal kick and the pass interference. Never seen that before. Still haven’t,” recalled Sutton, who didn’t play for Montreal in the 2014 playoffs and on a team hopelessly out of contention since until his reprieve trade to the Lions.

When they talk about the past Lulay and Sutton are reminded, as Dickenson was before, about the pitfalls of taking a playoff appearance for granted. That was largely the case around the Lions for two decades until their run ended last year.

It clearly is not the case at present, nor are the Lions of the belief their recent 6-1 run is simply enough to get them to Ottawa and round two of their planned multi-trip, cross-Canada Grey Cup trek next week and the Nov. 18 East Division final.

It is Lulay’s moment right now, possibly among his last with the Lions, and he is not so totally caught up in preparation to miss smelling the coffee.

“There’s been a lot of those moments,” he said when asked if he has reflected on what has happened since his previous playoff start in Regina. “A couple of days later (in 2013) I had surgery on my arm and it’s been a wild circus since then from an injury point of view. I don’t take any of it for granted. That’s why I’m so excited and appreciative of this opportunity. Already waking up thinking about that game.”

It is the Lions offence, however, that needs a wake-up call, and there is little evidence to suggest one is in the offing. The scheme under the direction of offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson is averaging just 236 yards offence in two games since securing a playoff spot. Bryan Burnham was the only receiver to hit the 1,000-yard mark this year. Lulay and Jennings have just three, 300-yard passing games all season.

Sutton, bothered by a leg strain last week, has suddenly become a target of opposing defences, averaging just 41 yards along the ground after nearly at a 100-yard clip previously in two games since being anointed as the feature tailback.

B.C. must get as many rushing yards as they figure to allow to have any chance in a game in which the Ticats start their playoff run with numerous receiving injuries but nonetheless the top-ranked offence under quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

Masoli threw for 5,209 yards to beat Bo Levi Mitchell in one fewer game for second in league passing behind Mike Reilly this year.

“I don’t care about that. It’s 0-0 now; only thing that matters are playoff stats and playoff wins,” said Sutton. “I’m the kind of guy who believes I have to start the game and finish it.”

Sutton may well start and finish, but the Lions began the week toying with the idea of activating Jeremiah Johnson, which not only might provide an offensive changeup Sunday but help in the search for a missing special teams return game not aided much lately by an ailing Chris Rainey.

Jackson, whose offence is last among active teams, hopes the offensive malaise is merely a byproduct of the complacency evident the last two weeks.

“I don’t think there was anything wrong with scheme,” countered Jackson, who is under contract in 2019 to the Lions. “I just think it was more the guys (not) being locked in whereas this week if you got to get guys locked in then you got the wrong guys.

“The last couple of games the guys were content and let the opportunity (to host a home playoff game) slip.”

Ask Lulay and Sutton what it’s like to see a post-season appearance slip.

LIONS TALES: Coach Wally Buono said the Lions took linebacker Solomon Elimimian off the six-game injury list Tuesday to get a look at him in practice but the limited amount of team drills means more time will be required to make an assessment about the wrist ligament injury that has kept him out since July 29. “There’s no way of knowing until I actually play a game,” said Elimimian, who is moderately comfortable testing the wrist hitting against a tackling sled. Elimimian wore a protective corset to practice for the first time Tuesday… Manny Arceneaux and Rolly Lumbala were named as Lions nominees for two post-season awards. Arceneaux is up for the Tom Pate award recognizing community service. Lumbala is nominated for the Jake Gaudaur award which best represents the attributes of Canada’s veterans… A win Sunday and the Lions will fly back Nov. 15 to Ottawa after taking a charter flight immediately after facing the Tiger-Cats. B.C. will head to Hamilton a day early this week and have a full workout Friday at McMaster University not far from the athletic centre named after owner/philanthropist David Braley. Since winning the 2011 Grey Cup, B.C. is 1-5 in the playoffs and winless in five tries on the road.

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.