Smarting from a lopsided 48-8 playoff loss, Wally Buono found one positive as he left the field for the last time Sunday.
“The one thing I did think about as I was walking off the field (was) I wouldn’t have to have this feeling again,” said the B.C. Lions coach.
“(Losses) are lasting and they are brutal.”
How long Sunday’s Eastern semifinal beatdown by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats lingers remains to be seen for the 68-year-old Buono, who is retiring after 46 years as a player, coach and GM in the league.
“That’s a good question, because they usually stay a long time,” Buono said. “I’ve always believed that if you end the season on a loss, it’s a long time before the next season. I guess the one thing I will say is I don’t have to worry about the next season so maybe it won’t last as long.”
A good thing, perhaps. The 40-point margin of victory for Hamilton was the largest in Lions playoff annals, erasing the 38 points of a 56-18 loss to Montreal in 2009.
“I’ve been doing this for a lot of years. A lot of people have had the opportunity to retire. I’ve talked to a number of them and most of them are doing OK. So I figure I’m not that much different and hopefully retirement will be OK.”
Loss No. 183 – to go with 305 coaching wins and three ties in regular-season and playoff action – was a horror show.
Fumbles, missed interceptions, a pick-six, failed third-down gambles – the Lions were on the wrong end of everything Sunday. Hamilton scored on three of its first four possessions and led 28-0 at the half. It was 44-0 after three quarters.
Buono’s seven Grey Cup rings – two won as a player and five as a coach – might provide some solace when he gets home.
But he found some words of wisdom for his players after Sunday’s loss.
“The thing that I shared with the guys is this is not what we came here for, this is not what we wanted but it’s been a pleasure working with these guys, it’s been a pleasure coaching the guys.
“Life gives you lessons. I hope they learn something from this lesson.”
For Lions quarterback Travis Lulay, Sunday’s result was “just an unfortunate end to an incredible career.”
“Today obviously doesn’t define the man … Everything that Wally’s earned and all the accolades he’s won over his career and all the credit he gets for the work that he’s done, he’s deserving of it all.
Linebacker Solomon Elimimian wanted to do more for his coach.
“For the guys who have been around, we know how much he’s meant to us and personally how much he’s meant to my career,” he said. “One thing that we wanted to give him, we couldn’t tonight.”
Like his coach, Elimimian tried to put the game in perspective.
“It’s life and life is unfair. And football is a microcosm of life and it is unfair,” he said. “Sometimes you put in the hard work, sometimes you make sacrifices and it just didn’t add up. But you have to pick yourself up and keep pushing.”
Buono has ruled out a return to management, reasoning that if he did it would have to be with another organization – “and I’m not sure I have the energy or the will at this point to do all that.”
“People like me, we’ve been around a long time. Sometimes it’s good for us to just move on,” he added.
Buono exits with a glittering resume.
Inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014, Buono was awarded the Order of Canada in 2015.
He won Grey Cups as a player with the Montreal Alouettes in 1974 and 1977. As a coach, he lifted the trophy three times with the Calgary Stampeders (1992, 1998, 2001) and twice with the Lions (2006, 2011).
He won the Annis Stukus Award as coach of the year four times (1992, 1993, 2006, 2011).
He finishes with a 282-165-3 regular-season record. He was 18-14 in the playoffs and 5-4 in the Grey Cup.
And he leaves a long line of grateful players.
“He’s been a leader, a mentor, another strong male figure in my life,” Lulay said. “It goes well beyond football.”