VANCOUVER — A football team isn’t responsible, in any basic way, for the reasoning of its fans.
So it cannot be held against the B.C. Lions that on the morning after their 41-21 debacle in frigid Cowtown last weekend, the first email landing in a Vancouver sportswriter’s inbox was, in part, bemoaning the lack of a covered stadium in Calgary, implying that it was basically unreasonable to expect a team to play football in those kinds of conditions.
Outdoors, the reader meant. On the prairies. In late October. When the ball is as rock-hard as the turf and players are using huge propane heaters on the sidelines to warm their hands and backsides or, in the case of Calgary’s Maurice Price, sliding in headfirst to see what that blue flame is about, up close.
But this we will guarantee:
The emailer is not the only one thinking that the Lions weren’t really into it Friday. Didn’t want it badly enough, when the result meant nothing to the standings. Didn’t see the sense in paying a heavy physical price when it was that cold, and bones are fragile, and hitting hurts.
Never mind that for about 75 of the 100 years teams have been playing for the Grey Cup, the elements have figured in probably half of the games played after the middle of October.
That was then. This is now, and the Lions -- who had already clinched first and knew they had only this one outdoors game and then the road to the Grey Cup, however far along, would be all under cover -- were bound to look on the trip to Calgary as a damned cold inconvenience. They did, and they played like it.
Is that so hard to admit?
It wasn’t the cold, they said. It wasn’t that there was nothing to be gained by winning. It wasn’t that all-CFL quarterback Travis Lulay was out with a bad right shoulder, or that -- in the absence of fresh snow -- their choice of all-white uniforms failed to make them invisible.
“It wasn’t the uniforms, it wasn’t anything. They came out and they were moving at a different pace than we were. They showed up to play,” said veteran cornerback Dante Marsh, as the Lions convened Tuesday in Surrey to regroup after their shocking performance in Calgary, and begin preparations for Saturday night’s regular-season finale at B.C. Place against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“There’s no excuses,” Marsh said. “We lost the game. It was cold, but so what? I didn’t have any sleeves on, so whatever. I’m a professional athlete. I get paid to do this. I went out there with every intention to play ball, and make plays.
“It was just a snowball effect real quick, and that hasn’t happened around here in a long time. The [Stamps] came out fiery, talking a lot of crap, and ... well deserved by them. They won the football game.”
“We just weren’t ready to come out and play,” said middle linebacker Adam Bighill, one of the few who seemed to have his foot on the accelerator from the start.
“I don’t know if the cold had anything to do with it. I know for me, it wasn’t a problem. Playing in the cold, whether you let it be a distraction or not, is a disadvantage if you’re not used to it. But for whatever reason, we came out real flat.”
Not everyone was unmotivated.
“When you haven’t played in three years, you’re definitely not thinking that there’s nothing on the line in the football game,” said Mike Reilly, who went the distance at quarterback in his second straight start since inflammation in Lulay’s shoulder joint became a problem.
Lions coach Mike Benevides had tried to get his players’ heads into cold-weather mode, having them dunk their fingers in ice-water during practices last week, and keep the practice balls in a freezer.
“I really didn’t think it was that cold [in Calgary], once you got moving around out there,” said Reilly, who was sacked seven times by the Stamps. “The ball was hard -- the ground was harder; it hurt if you got thrown down on it -- but it was more just a combination of bad things happening early.”
Lulay, who had the best seat in the house for observing his teammates, said he didn’t get feeling that they were blase mentally, or bugged by the cold.
“Honestly. I don’t think the cold affected us as much as [the start] taking us by surprise. We’d been doing a lot of good things lately, had some good momentum ... and then, before you can blink it’s 17-0 and it’s not, what, five minutes into the game?” said the reigning league MVP, who made some soft throws Tuesday for the first time in a couple of weeks.
“I think a little bit of shock factor set in, like ‘Oh crap, this isn’t going good.’ That’s the impression I got on the sidelines. You could feel the body language just kind of tense up.
“It was cold, don’t get me wrong, but I’m out on the field before the game and I’m watching the receivers, and there’s no drops in warmups. Everyone’s lively, no one’s moping around, hands in pockets, that’s the type of body language you’re looking for.
“Before the game, I’m not playing so I’m kind of looking around, just getting a vibe, trying to feel out if I have to shake somebody or something to snap them into the game ... I didn’t sense that. I just think we got shell-shocked early and dug way too deep a hole to get out of.”
Lulay sounded upbeat after what Benevides called “a great day today. [The shoulder] felt good to him -- but I’m going to be smart about it, and make sure he’s cautious with it. He’s going to give it another go tomorrow.”
Benevides said he wants to get Lulay some game-speed repetitions before the Western final, which means he’d like to play him for a quarter or even a half against Saskatchewan, if the shoulder permits it.
If there’s no danger of a setback, Lulay said, he’d take a shot to freeze the shoulder.
“If it’s a matter of tempering a little bit of pain to make it tolerable to play though: then, yeah.”
He said he’s not worried if he has to sit Saturday, and goes into the Western final Nov. 18 having not played in five weeks.
“I feel good about stepping right in and not feeling like I’m missing a beat. If this was week 2-3-4-5, it’d be a different story,” Lulay said. “I mean, Mike sat out for 3 years, and came in and played pretty good, right?”
Right. But that’s not how anyone really wants this to go.
Indoor football season has arrived. Even sore shoulders feel better out of the cold.
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