Stop the streak

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:17 PM ET

A Brit tabloid would have fun with this. I can see the headline now:

"Buono: 'I'm unbeatable!' "

Unfortunately, there was context involved.

"I always feel I'm unbeatable,'' said Wally Buono, head coach of the unbeaten British Columbia Lions.

Realizing, perhaps, what he was sort of saying, Buono kept on talking.

"Good teams and good organizations expect to win all the time. The Edmonton Eskimos understand that. Certain teams line up and expect to win. Certain teams line up and hope to win. And certain teams line up and expect to lose.''

Thus Mr. Unbeatable dodged a headline. And don't bother to clear space on the Eskimos bulletin board prior to tonight's 5 p.m. game at Commonwealth Stadium.

Or, maybe do pin up the following paragraph in case any of the Eskimos don't get it.

This game isn't about getting a feather for the helmets of the team which stops the B.C. Lions' undefeated season. It's about leaving the Lions with nothing to play for over the final two months of the season.

The longer Buono remains Mr. Unbeatable the longer his team can keep pouring themselves into practices and games as they cake-walk to finishing first and playing host to the Western Final Nov. 20 in B.C. Place.

"If you're way ahead, this is a tough part of the schedule,'' says Buono. "Keeping this streak going is added incentive to continue to focus each week. It's excitement. It's pride. Instead of letting down, it makes you want to try harder each week.''

ONLY TO FAIL AT THE END

Danny Maciocia knows what Buono will be dealing with the minute the streak is snapped. The rookie Eskimos head coach was an assistant with Alouette teams which got off to great starts and ran away with the East only to fail at the end of the season.

"When you put first place away early, a sense of complacency takes over,'' says Maciocia. "What do you play for?''

From a business point of view, keeping the streak going is important to the Lions, too. With three home games to go they've already passed last year's total attendance. And David Braley, even before projecting profits from the Grey Cup, is going to turn his first profit since he bought the team in 1997.

As the man who built this team to this point in two and a half seasons, Buono resents the idea that it's just the streak that's resulted in land office business, making the valid point that it began with Dave Dickenson and putting an exciting product on the field, taking the team to the Grey Cup game last year and turning on a town which had been a CFL dead zone.

THAT'S BUONO SPEAKING

But that's GM Wally Buono speaking.

Head coach Wally Buono has seen seasons go south on him because his teams were too good for their own good before. He swears he won't let it happen again like it did in '93 when his Stampeders started 10-0 and lost to Edmonton in the West Final.

Buono says he's not going to take his foot off the gas with these guys, no matter what.

Been there. Done that.

"I won't do that. I've done that twice and suffered the consequences,'' he said.

"I sat a player of high prominence and lost. That delivered the message to the players that I didn't think the game was important,'' he said of a 15-2 season turning into 15-3 and losing the Western Final.

"It's important to send the right message.''

If they keep the streak going to 12-0, 13-0, 14-0, 15-0 Buono doesn't have to worry about that.

With two games here and one in Montreal the odds are probably against them. But Buono says you don't look at going 20-0, you look at going 12-0 tonight.

"It's not possible if you think 20-0. But it's always possible to win the next game.''

For the Eskimos, beating the Lions would be exactly what the doctor ordered. They're not going to catch B.C. to finish first. The Lions would have to lose all their games and the Eskimos win all their games for that to happen. Win tonight and B.C. mathematically clinches first.

Stopping the streak, you get the idea, is about a whole lot more than bragging rights for a team which has left itself with no real chance remaining to reach for the top in the regular season.

The longer Wally Buono remains Mr. Unbeatable, the better chance he has of winning the Grey Cup.


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