With five Grey Cup wins, Buono may move on
The dream scenario is there for Wally Buono. The [Grey Cup] is hoisted after the last game. White-and-orange confetti rains down. The league's winning coach announces he will work solely in the future as general manager. Cue closing credits. - The Province, June 3 season preview.
There were too many things to process for that to play out for the winningest coach in CFL history, right from the moment his team was introduced Sunday and he appeared emotional surveying the sea of orange at B.C. Place Stadium, to the post-game press conference where he could have made it easy on everyone and outlined his plans.
But after trying to escape a locker-room scene that was considerably more raucous than the last time he'd taken a team this far in 2006, once a 34-23 Grey Cup win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers that was the sixth title for the team and fifth for their legendary coach, there was only one thing left to say that was a little more important.
Travis Lulay, the smiling redhead Lions quarterback who never stopped improving through his second year, was tested, almost confused at a few points along the way.
But in adding game MVP honours to his league award earned late last week, Lulay fought through a previously-undisclosed aggravated groin injury that was bothering him through the practice week.
Andrew Harris got the Lions started with a 19-yard scoring run, rookie Kierrie Johnson helped break the will of the Bombers with a 66-yarder in the second half, then Arland Bruce allowed 54,313 to exhale with a six-yarder near the end.
And still, through all of that, Buono wasn't prepared to do anything other than enjoy what his team achieved, trying to make listeners believed he hadn't done anything.
“I went for it on third down and I made a challenge – what else did I do?” he said. “Winning or losing has got not nothing to do with the decision. You got to make a decision and you have to factor all the parts – what's good for the organization and what's good for me and my family.”
Lulay ended up with 320 yards passing, but had issues with the Bombers defence. B.C. barely had no need for yard-markers early, not that it mattered. An hour before the game the yard-markers were found to be faulty, and a backup set had to be driven to the game by police escort from Notre Dame high school.
“Honestly I felt great I was way more calm than thought I would be,” the quarterback said. “I got bug eyed and just missed four or five throws that I haven't missed in a long time. But there was no sense of panic and no reason to panic.”
Lulay got bug-eyed the most in the fourth quarter. Johnson had given the Lions a 24-9 when the rookie got behind Bombers veteran defender Jonahan Hefney, but Lulay nearly gave it back when he threw a pass into the arms of Winnipeg defensive lineman Odell Willis, with a clear pass to the end zone. Willis dropped the gift.
But the cushion enjoyed by Lulay came exclusively because the Lions defence smothered Buck Pierce and the Bombers for nearly three quarters, holding Winnipeg to 41 yards rushing.
“They gave up early,” cornerback Dante Marsh claimed. “After we was up by 14 I felt like the game was won.”
An hour or so later he was right.
“Opportunities don't come like this all time. Who knows if it'll ever happen again,” defensive back Ryan Phillips said. “It's the best feeling in the world.”
“This is, the most improbable season,” defensive coordinator Mike Benevides said.
And in a day or two, likely no longer than a couple of weeks, Buono will tell owner David Braley first and disclose whether he wants to coach for a 23rd season.
“I hope he comes back and coaches because he knows this team so well,” slotback Geroy Simon said. “But what better way to go out.
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