The most remarkable statistic coming out of the B.C. Lions' seventh straight loss in 2010 was not the 35 points scored by a team which normally needs a GPS to find the end zone.
Nor was it the fact that Calgary quarterback Henry Burris threw three interceptions yet saw his team score 48 and continue on its roll toward one of best starts in Stampeders' history.
Instead, it was the realization that 25,127 fans cared enough to come to Empire Field Friday night to watch a 1-6 team move to 1-7 following a fairly predictable defeat to the 7-1 Stamps, who've now whipped the Lions nine straight times. Maybe they were tantalized by the unlikely prospect of quarterback Casey Printers returning to his 2004 MVP form, or simply held a morbid fascination with disaster, as some people do with train wrecks and car crashes.
Whatever it was, it's testament to the staying power of Lions fans, who are showing some of the same indomitable traits as their brethren and sistren who bleed, profusely, for the Detroit Lions.
Full of hope, even though his team is hopeless, a 63-year-old man from the upper peninsula of Michigan, Joe Paquette Jr., completed a 425-mile walk to the Detroit Lions' training facility in Allen Park, Mich., on Wednesday to show his support for the downtrodden NFL team.
Just when B.C. fans think they have it bad -- the West Coast Lions are 1-10 over their past 11 CFL regular-season games -- the Detroit Lions are a reminder that somebody else is always worse off. Since 2001, the Motown Lions are 33-111, a winning percentage of .229 that is the lowest during a nine-year span since World War II. In 2008, Detroit had the league's first 0-16 season. They improved to 2-14 in '09.
Not only is Detroit battling an inferiority complex with its football team, but with the turmoil raging outside the walls of Ford Field: unemployment, crime, derelict neighbourhoods, a crippled auto industry that was the city's raison d'etre.
So B.C. Lions fans really have little to complain about. Despite the most recent beatdown, fans are still buying ballcaps, not paper bags to shield their identities, and the biggest outrage is the $25 parking fee at the PNE, not the fact that parking lots are deserted because whole industries are shutting down in Detroit.
It may be small comfort for B.C. head coach Wally Buono but 75 per cent of the teams qualify for the postseason, although the Lions lost some ground Saturday in the turtle derby with 2-6 Winnipeg and 2-6 Edmonton when the Eskimos upset Saskatchewan 17-14. What's more, 56 per cent of the schedule is still ahead of them. Mind you, it's been 55 days since the Lions last won a game, and they're closing in on one of the franchise's worst starts ever. The 1969 Lions went 0-6 before finally winning a game, then proceeded to fall to 1-10 before coach Jim Champion was fired and replaced by general manager Jackie Parker.
Since Buono holds the dual posts of coach and GM, he's unlikely to relieve himself.
Still, while he doesn't have job loss staring him in the face, the league's all-time winningest coach is nonetheless a shaken man.
Asked to describe his post-game emotion in the Lions locker room, Buono admitted to being "distraught."
On Saturday, after reviewing tapes of the Calgary game, he changed the D-word to "disillusioned."
"I guess I'm disillusioned," he said. "I guess I'm a lot of things. I'm thankful the past 20 years haven't gone like this."
Viewing game tapes doesn't ease his anxiety or calm his blood pressure. They only serve to point out a litany of mistakes and plays which could have developed into something had assignments been properly carried out.
For instance, Buono replayed a sequence in which kick returner Yonus Davis was one tackle away from going all the way for a touchdown. But one of Calgary's cover men, Romby Bryant, wasn't blocked out and veered sharply to stop Davis in his tracks, just as he was about to break into the clear.
Another time, running back Jamal Robertson tripped over a teammate's foot as he was about to score from the one-yard line, forcing the Lions into a third crack at putting the ball into the end zone from three feet away. Fullback Jerome Messam ultimately made it in, just barely, to score the Lions' first touchdown. But it left Buono wondering why even the most basic of plays become an illustration of Murphy's Law for the Lions.
"He [Robertson] should have just walked in and scored," Buono said. "Now, we have to try and put it in on third down. You think that's painful to watch? I'm thinking to myself, 'Guys, it's not that hard.' It's not that hard."
Despite a huge disparity in time of possession -- the Stampeders offence controlled the ball for 38 minutes and 30 seconds; the Lions just 21:30 -- Buono was not teeing off on the usual suspects -- quarterbacking and the offensive line and their chronic inconsistency. The defence, which has held together to make some of the Lions' losses less gut-wrenching, is also becoming unglued. The Stampeders had 499 yards of total offence to the Lions' 266. But Buono wasn't buying the notion that his defence simply was tuckered out by being on the field too long.
With Calgary ahead 27-20 in the third quarter, Stampeder running back Jon Cornish got outside after a Lion defender failed to close a gap and sprinted 50 yards to the B.C. four-yard line. Receiver Arjei Franklin ran the ball in for a touchdown on the next play, on a superbly executed reverse, one of those imaginative misdirection plays that seem to be absent from the Lions' playbook.
"People say, 'The defence got tired.' Well, they ran 10 more plays than us," Buono said. "The point is, they gave up the big run. That had nothing to do with fatigue. After that run, the defence went into the tank. Now, is it because they've been on the field too long? I think they're demoralized. That play there demoralized them. If we're honest, we'd say, at this point, we're demoralized."
What can be done? There's the problem. Not much.
The Lions will tweak their roster for next Friday's game in Montreal, but Buono said no new players are expected to join the team in practice this week.
Sherko Haji-Rasouli, who hasn't played a game all season because of recurring knee injuries, likely will replace Justin Sorensen at right tackle. Adam Leonard is a probable addition to the linebacking mix at the expense of Joe Henderson, who is playing himself into the doghouse because of missed assignments. And rookie receiver Steven Black is likely to make his CFL debut in place of another rookie, Darius Passmore, who suffered lacerations to his throat after colliding with an advertising board while he was trying to make a sideline catch.
"We're probably going to make two or three moves," Buono said. "You've got to try and improve your roster. But, no, we don't have anybody new coming in."
For better or worse, the coach realizes he's stuck with what he's got. He can only hope the future doesn't get much worse before it gets better.
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