October 30, 2018

Winning For Wally… But Also For Themselves

It is shaping up to be a special Saturday night of football, and not just because it is the last time the BC Lions will play in front of their home fans in 2018. With their spot in the Grey Cup playoffs locked in- they will travel to Hamilton as the crossover team on Sunday, November 11th- the regular season finale against the Calgary Stampeders means virtually nothing in the standings. Naturally, Buono’s players still want to win and send the CFL’s all-time wins leader out on a good note before his final playoff run. But collectively, they all agree it runs a lot deeper than that.

“I think it would mean a lot but the objective is bigger than that,” said veteran fullback Rolly Lumbala.

“We want to win because anytime we are on the field that’s the ultimate goal and what we are focusing on. Winning will make us feel good also as we head into playoffs.”

You can certainly argue that being sentimental shouldn’t be their only focus, especially after a 35-16 loss in Saskatchewan that left many observers with some of the same doubts they had in the first half of the season when it wasn’t going so well. To a man, they know they are better than the group that allowed 199 rushing yards and failed to move the ball consistently on offence. Bouncing back against a hungry Stampeders squad that must prevail in order to hang onto first place in the super-competitive West Division. Taking two out of three against arguably the class of the CFL for the past decade might put a few more of those doubters back on notice. That alone should prevent them from steering their focus away from what it should be.

Rolly Lumbala (46) of the BC Lions and Ethan Davis (26) of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the game at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, ON., on Saturday, July 15, 2017. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

“That’s one of those things about being a pro; regardless of circumstances, regardless of outside noise, who’s doing what or Wally’s last game at BC Place, we really should be preparing the same regardless, added Travis Lulay.

“That would be the most honourable thing for our head coach right? He wants you to go out and compete for every game and be pro. He tells us all the time our job is not to play football, it’s to win football because anybody could play. That doesn’t change; whether it’s Wally’s last game or anybody’s last game. That’s what you do. You go out and play to win.”

In their eleventh and tenth seasons with the club respectively, Lumbala and Lulay represent the two longest-serving Lions players and prime examples of veterans who owe a lot of what they’ve accomplished in football to Buono himself. As a GM looking to upgrade his young Canadian talent, Buono traded linebacker Markeith Knowlton to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for a second-round draft pick in 2008 that was used on the hardworking fullback out of the University of Idaho.

“Wally has meant everything,” stated Lumbala.

“I couldn’t have asked to be coached by anyone else or better. Coming in as a young man, I learned a lot. I saw how he led his men over the years and what he means to this community. I’ll forever be indebted to him and I thank him for drafting me in 2008.”

Lulay was signed by Buono following a free agent camp in Portland in the spring of 2009. After a stint with Mike Holmgren with the Seattle Seahawks, he was no stranger to great coaching. But Buono would ultimately serve as the figure that helped him really take off in his football career; through good times and bad.

“He was the guy that gave me the opportunity to step on the field,” recalled Lulay.

“I always believed I could play, I hadn’t really gotten the opportunity to play. I always said I could live it with it if I played my way off the field. If I got a chance and didn’t play up to the level I needed to play to be a pro, then so be it. But I didn’t really have the golden opportunity until I got here. So Wally gave me that chance and I like to say he gave me the opportunity and I went and tried to prove him right. He was the guy who gave me that chance and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.”

And given how Lulay is cut from that hardworking, blue-collar cloth it’s no surprise he is approaching this test against Calgary as a big game, regardless of the standings or his head coach’s final regular reason rodeo.

“This is professional football, and every opportunity you need to cherish,” added the quarterback.

“I’ve even hated people saying mop-up duty or garbage time. I think that’s nonsense. You’re on a professional football field and you have a golden opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do.”

Matt Baker: