VANCOUVER -- Buono vs. Eskimo. No matter how much things change, they stay the same.
When he was a player, Wally Buono played in five Grey Cup games against Edmonton.
"We won two, lost two and gave them one,'' Buono laughed as he watched the rain splatter against his office window at the Lions office in Burnaby, B.C., yesterday.
As head coach of the Calgary Stampeders, it was the same deal again.
Buono vs. Eskimo.
Except they weren't Grey Cups, they were Western Finals. And he was knee-deep in the most intense rivalry in Canadian sports.
Buono did OK. In his time as Stampeders head coach he had a win-loss record of 153-79-2. In the games which really mattered, he was 6-3 vs. the Eskimos in the playoffs.
Here we are again. Now he's head coach of the B.C. Lions. It's Buono vs. Eskimo for first place in the Western Conference and there's every expectation it's going to be Buono vs. Eskimo in the Western Final.
"I would think it will,'' said Buono of the matchup on Nov. 9.
GETTING USED TO IT
Hey, he's used to it. It's the way it works.
"If you look at the common denominator in this, it's the Eskimos,'' he said as he chewed on the storyline.
"It's a credit to their organization. It has always been the organization you are measuring yourself up to. If you want to be a contender and a first-place team, most times those are the guys you are combating against, right?''
It was like that as a player.
"Those years, it wasn't an assumption you were going to be playing the Eskimos in the Grey Cup, it was a fact. We weren't surprised and I'm pretty sure they weren't surprised we played each other as many times as we did.
"Montreal did a lot of things like Edmonton in terms of recruiting, keeping players, coaches ... all the things that make you win,'' he added of the team Marv Levy put together.
In his first head-coaching job Buono accepted the challenge of building a team in a city that had gone through a lot of losing to Edmonton teams, which had just won five Stanley Cups and five Grey Cups.
"Right there in the shadow of big brother,'' was how he put it. "One thing I felt I had to overcome in Calgary was an attitude with the team and the city that it was good enough just to be competitive, that people would be OK with that. It was a hard sell. That's one thing we overcame. It took until late in the '90s to get out of the shadow of big brother.''
Now Buono is out here running a team which has played host to but one home playoff game since 1987.
The guy who provided Calgary with a home playoff game for 11 consecutive seasons has his team in first place in only his second season as GM and coach. Win this one here tomorrow night against the Eskimos and it's almost impossible to fathom the Lions finishing anywhere else but first.
"It would put us in a tremendous position,'' he said. "It would give us the season series and leave us four points ahead of the Eskimos, which in theory puts us five points ahead. The Eskimos would have five left and we'd have six.''
Two of the six are against the now seriously shabby Stampeders.
You should know the Lions go into this with a club-record seven-game winning streak.
"Last time we lost was to Edmonton,'' Buono pointed out, helpfully, to a scribe on a 43rd straight day on the road.
The Lions, who dropped both games to the Eskimos last year, came to Commonwealth Stadium for the first home game and came up with the only win in the place in the last 15 games the Eskimos have played in the place.
The Esks went back and bit 'em in B.C.
"There was a different psychology going into that game,'' he said. "Edmonton was 0-3. They were desperate. We did not have the same mindset as they did. We played like it. Now we're both playing good football.''
Buono vs. Eskimo may have changed venues but it hasn't changed.
IT'S A FAMILY AFFAIR
Buono's daughter Amy is a teacher at Holyrood elementary school in Edmonton.
"Deep behind enemy lines,'' Buono laughed. But the enemy is friendly enough.
Edmonton CEO Hugh Campbell still delights in coming up with occasional tickets or mini-footballs for Buono's daughter's class to try to turn her into an Eskimo fan.
"As much as I want to kick Edmonton's ass, he's been great to her,'' Buono admitted. "But she'll never cheer for the Eskimos, I'll guarantee you that.
"I remember once when I brought back an Eskimo sweatsuit that our equipment man George Hopkins had asked to have a look at.
"I got home late and was taking it to the dressing room the next day. I brought it home and hung it in the living room and went to bed. When I got up in the morning the kids were like, 'What are you doing with this in the house? Get this thing out of here!' ''
It's not Buono vs. Eskimo, says Wally, it's Buonos vs. Eskimos. That still includes the one who lives in Edmonton.