Wally's world all smiles

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- It was 9 a.m. and Wally Buono was already in his office.

He knows the drill. This isn't his first trip to the Grey Cup. He's been there six times before as coach of the Calgary Stampeders.

Then again, this is different.

There's no ho-hum to this at all.

When you take over a failing franchise and two years later win one of the greatest playoff games ever played in the CFL before 55,227 to get to the Grey Cup, "same old, same old" really isn't in there anywhere.

"It's all been God-ordained," said Buono yesterday morning.

"To come out here has been good for me, good for my family and, the way it's worked out, good for the people who hired me.

CLOSED THE DOOR ON HIM

"They closed the door on me in Calgary in a very strange way. To get to this day, this way ... well, I won't say I did it, because we did it.

"But I feel a lot of pride in having a good club, a good product and stepping on the field in the Western final before 55,000 fans and winning a game to get to the Grey Cup."

Buono kind of likes the idea that the Toronto Argos have managed to show up, too.

"You look at these two teams two years ago, and attendance was down and interest was down. For these two teams to get to the Grey Cup goes a long way to what's already been accomplished. Having B.C. and Toronto in the Grey Cup doesn't hurt anybody."

Well, the Ottawa Grey Cup organizing committee probably wouldn't agree with that one. B.C.-Toronto hurts them big time. Grey Cup ticket sales have been soft and there is the fear they constructed huge sets of temporary bleachers that no one is going to sit in now that it's the Argos and the Lions.

If the Rider Nation had made it to the nation's capital, they would have come by plane, train, automobile, prairie schooner, combine and swather. And if the Alouettes had won, there's a whole province of passionate football fans on the other side of the bridge to Hull.

What's happened in Vancouver and Toronto is terrific, but they have yet to create whole flocks of fans who are religious about their teams and care enough to take the trip if their team gets to the Grey Cup.

A GAME CBC LOVES

That said, this is a game CBC will love. Toronto vs Vancouver. The two largest television markets in Canada.

And with Buono and Pinball Clemons to deal with all week instead of media unfriendly Don Matthews and Danny Barrett, the press boxers aren't complaining either.

Commissioner Tom Wright is going to be able to boast about a fabulous season with first-rate playoffs, no matter how many Grey Cup tickets are sold.

These two teams have only met once before in a Grey Cup - '83. Toronto won 18-17. They met each other twice during the regular season, splitting the games. The Lions won 31-10 in Vancouver and the Argos took their home game, 22-16.

The Western final drew 130 fans more than the 1994 Grey Cup game here.

Combined with the 51,296 in Montreal for the Eastern final, the 37,835 last week in Toronto and the 37,359 in the only outdoor game in Edmonton, the CFL broke the record for playoff attendance of 172,842 set back in 1983 with a total of 181,717.

There will be those who might suggest that this is the bronze-medal game dressed up as the Grey Cup, that the Argos got here because Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo got hurt and the Lions got here because Saskatchewan's Paul McCallum couldn't kick an 18-yard field goal.

And there will be those who will be suggesting this will be a mismatch, an easily predictable blowout for the Lions over the no-offence Argos.

Buono, who has a 3-3 record coaching in the Grey Cup, rolls his eyes at that.

"I've never coached a team that loves playing so close to the edge as a team," he said.

"I like it the old way."

Indeed. Not only do the Lions win the West final in overtime, but they for all purposes put away first place with an overtime win over Edmonton in a game in which Eskimo kicker Sean Fleming hit the crossbar to lose it.

And the Leos beat Saskatchewan on a last-play-of-the-game touchdown toss to Geroy Simon in something close to triple coverage in their last regular-season game.

EASIER ON A COACH

Buono says it's a lot easier on a coach to win big, but making every win a high-wire act has become the identity of his team.

"The message is out there. We play exciting football. Those fans weren't out there by chance. It's not just the winning. They were there because we play exciting football.

"All year long we gave them a reason to come back. It's not just because there is no hockey season.

"I get tired of hearing that."

B.C. president Bobby Ackles says you can credit a lot of people with what has happened here where season-ticket sales were 6,000 two years ago. But you have to credit Buono first.

"I think it all starts with Wally."

But it's the endings which have made the Buono B.C. era so much fun so far.

"Every time this team goes on the field they have a chance to win and you'd better not leave early," is how Ackles puts it.

"It's the thing about our job as football coaches," said Buono.

"You can't create this kind of adrenalin. I could have been an accountant and, while I'm sure they have their moments, it's these kind of games which make it so hard to leave sports.

"You either have great moments or broken hearts. I've had plenty of both."


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