Montreal Alouettes Kyries Hebert grabs ball carrier B.C. Lions Chris Rainey during 3rd quarter CFL action in Montreal on Thursday September 3, 2015 (CFL PHOTO - Peter McCabe)
It has become as rare a treat as a walk-off Rouge or shutout of an opponent. Yet a quick look back in BC Lions’ archives reveals it used to be as common as a Calgary Chinook or an Oskie Wee Wee rally in Hamilton.
With the 7-4-0 Lions set to visit 6-4-0 Montreal this Saturday (4:00 pm PT/TSN/RDS/AM730), it marks the first time we will take part in the annual Labour Day Weekend slate since 2015. Although this franchise has recently been deprived of the early September tradition, a few key members of the organization have been a part of Labour Day rivalries in the past.
Enter Rick Campbell who served as an assistant coach with Edmonton from 1999-2008 and again in 2011, spent the 2010 season in Winnipeg and then was on the other side of the Alberta rivalry in Calgary from 2012-13.
“It means so much to the people in all those provinces and it’s such a special weekend for the Canadian Football League,” said the Lions’ head coach.
“It’s definitely a huge weekend for everyone involved: players, coaches and fans alike.”
A quick history lesson. The return of a successful Ottawa franchise has usually meant the Lions are reserved for an automatic bye week on the CFL’s best regular season tradition.
With the REDBLACKS providing Montreal a natural geographic rival, that matchup is usually served up as an appetizer for Saskatchewan hosting Winnipeg on Sunday followed by the Monday doubleheader featuring Toronto in Hamilton and Calgary welcoming in their traditional rivals from Edmonton.
Will a possible tenth franchise make room for a new Labour Day tradition? That’s a debate for another time. But in the years without our nation’s capital in the league, it was the Lions and Alouettes locking horns, typically on a Friday night, to provide the opening act to Labour Day weekend fun.
It wasn’t always the case back then, however. For reasons unknown, the Lions hosted Hamilton on the September holiday weekend in 2013 and visited Toronto two years prior. Both of those years meant the Tiger-Cats and Argonauts did not square off in their annual rivalry game.
One consistent stretch in the modern Labour Day tradition saw the Lions and Alouettes meet every year from 2006-10.
It was at a time when both could stake a claim to being the CFL’s model franchise, the Lions being Grey Cup champions in 2006 and knocking on the door for a few years after, while Montreal put together solid regular seasons on an annual basis before sipping from the Cup in 2009 and 2010. Defensive coordinator Ryan Phillips was right in the middle of it as a player.
“There was definitely a trade-off factor. Montreal is always a long trip and it can be rough on guys’ bodies,” recalled Phillips.
“More often than not, we would beat them here and then lose in their place. It was still fun because it was a great chance for us as a defence to measure up against Anthony Calvillo, probably the best quarterback this league has ever seen. They also had some of the better receivers in the league like Ben Cahoon, Kerry Watkins and Jamel Richardson.
It was always a struggle but in those days you definitely felt like it was the best two teams out there. It was going to be highly competitive, and highly physical. It was some of the most competitive football games I had ever played in as a professional.”
For this year anyway, the Lions and Alouettes ‘tradition’ is back on. David Menard was in his first stint as a Lion player when these two squads last met on Labour Day Weekend 2015.
“It’s a good tradition. These games are really important. And also, the last stretch of the season after Labour Day is always the most important. The level of the game goes up a little bit,” said the veteran defensive end.
Both the Lions and Alouettes are in the driver’s seat when it comes to a top-two spot in their respective divisions and the right to host a playoff game in November. That’s what makes this Labour Day weekend clash even more crucial.
“I never liked that adage of ‘the real season starts at Labour Day,” added Campbell.
“But it’s definitely an important week because now we’re at a stage of entering the final third of our regular season. It used to mark the halfway point but those days are done.”
Last 5 Lion Labour Day Weekend Results
September 3, 2015- Lions 25 Alouettes 16, Molson Stadium
- An aggressive Lion defence intercepted Montreal quarterback Tanner Marsh five times to preserve a much-needed win in Jeff Tedford’s lone season as head coach.
August 30, 2013- Lions 29 Tiger-Cats 26, BC Place
- For a second time in three seasons, the Lions somehow were for some reason, an alternative to the annual Ticats-Argos Labour Day tradition. A Travis Lulay 80-yard touchdown connection to Manny Arceneaux was the highlight in front of over 30,000 fans.
August 31, 2012- Alouettes 30 Lions 25, Molson Stadium
- Arland Bruce III had two touchdowns in the losing effort while Lulay fired another to Paris Jackson. In the end, Anthony Calvillo’s 300-plus passing yards were too much to overcome.
September 2, 2011- Lions 29 Argonauts 16, Rogers Centre
- A quirk in the schedule had Lulay and company in Toronto on Labour Day Weekend when the squad’s 2011 turnaround was in full force. Lulay rushed for a touchdown, through another to Bruce while Solomon Elimimian and Cauchy Muamba recorded interceptions.
September 3, 2010- Lions 38 Alouettes 17- Molson Stadium
- The Alouettes’ 13-game home winning streak ended abruptly as Casey Printers fired touchdown passes to Geroy Simon and Steven Black. The defensive statement came on a fumble recovery major from Korey Banks.
And Finally… Mallett Provides Latest Labour Day Home Cookin’
September 4, 2009- Lions 19 Alouettes 12- BC Place
- The last home Labour Day weekend game at BC Place saw Martell Mallett rush for 213 yards as the Lions won a ninth straight home meeting with the Alouettes. No Lion has hit 200 rushing yards since. This was the fourth meeting between the teams in a five-year Labour Day Weekend stretch.