Winnipeg chill won’t bother dome-raised ‘mountain’ Lions in West Final

Photo courtesy: Jeff Vinnicl/B.C. Lions

Of all the jabs and insults hurled at the B.C. Lions by Bombers fans ahead of Sunday’s West Final, none has garnered more traction than the idea that a team from the temperate West Coast simply isn’t equipped to handle the frigid Manitoba tundra.

That argument ignores a simple fact according to head coach Rick Campbell.

“I was reminded that the B.C. Lions are called the Lions not because of lions on the Serengeti, but mountain lions,” he told reporters on Saturday. “Mountain lions are a little more used to the cold.”

Nevertheless, temperatures are expected to reach minus-8 with light snowfall at IG Field during Sunday’s playoff clash, a far cry from the damp plus-8 degrees expected in Vancouver. As a team coming from the domed confines of BC Place, that weather could be a shock to the system — though Campbell doesn’t anticipate it having any major ramifications for the game plan.

“To be more serious, I guess it might be a little overplayed. A lot of us and a lot of our players aren’t dome people or from B.C. and we got to play at Edmonton,” he noted.

“Just being around playoff football for however long I’ve been doing this now, I think that the weather is going to be okay tomorrow, which is a good thing when you’re playing a game against two good teams. That minus-5, minus-6, minus-7,  if there’s not much wind, I don’t think it’s going to have a big effect on the game.”

While the Winnipeg faithful will be more than happy to pull down their balaclavas and argue that point to wimpy Vancouverites, Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea shared his opponents’ doubts about the impact of the prairie cold earlier in the week.

“I don’t think I can recall one game in 20-something years where I saw somebody playing — I wasn’t in it — and it looked like they were really affected,” he said. “Other than that, I’ve been on teams that have come from Ontario out West, played in minus-15, minus-20 and won.”

High-profile skeptics be damned, frozen believers see the Bombers as the team better equipped to run a ground-and-pound attack if the elements take a turn for the worse. Meteorologists don’t seem to believe it will come to that, but members of the Lions’ high-flying passing attack aren’t giving much credence to the concerns around their chilly fingers either way.

“It’s football at the end of the day. There’s a ball you have to catch, the weather does nothing to affect that. As long as I can run, jump, catch, it’s going to be the same thing each and every game,” said receiver Dominique Rhymes, a native of sunny Miami, Florida.

“That really doesn’t affect each and every player on our team. I’m half-Canadian now that I’ve been in Canada so long, the weather does nothing to me.”

What is indisputable is that the veteran-laden Bombers are more accustomed to the playoff frost and have had a few more snowy practices to acclimatize. O’Shea has asked his group to embrace the harsh conditions as a badge of postseason success many would be envious of, but being glad for the experience doesn’t mean he thinks the Manitoba winter will skew things in their favour.

“Certainly, you’re not relying on any of that. You have to rely on your own preparation,” he stressed.

“Do I think that preparing in the cold and snow is good for us? Yes, absolutely. But you have to really rely on your own preparation, your own process, your own playmaking ability and not discount anybody because they have to travel or they’re on a short week, whatever those things are. You never discount an opponent because of any of those factors.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.