Lions miss their own party

BOB MACKIN -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

They went from first to worst and won't be at their own Party on the Pacific.

The 2005 B.C. Lions were built to play in and win Sunday's Grey Cup at B.C. Place Stadium, but the blueprints got lost in late September.

Lions were 11-0 and Becoming Champs until the streak ended Sept. 24 in Edmonton with a prophetic loss to the Eskimos. After winning just one of their last eight games -- the worst fall finish in the league -- they're now Buono's Chokers.

Quarterback Casey Printers may have played his last game in orange Sunday -- unless B.C. gets a trade offer it can't refuse for Dave Dickenson. Wally Buono is loyal to his players and would understandably be reluctant to part ways with Dickenson.

Printers has much to complain about, such as not getting a single snap in 2004's Grey Cup loss and not getting the start in the 2005 west final after Dickenson completed just three passes in six weeks. Protracted contract negotiations with Printers and his agent/uncle and the 2004 CFL outstanding player's reluctance to practice with aches and pains rubbed Buono the wrong way. Dickenson is an ambassador for the Lions and football and the most accurate passer around. But before casting Printers adrift, Buono should beware: The "Magic Man" is arguably the most charismatic and dynamic quarterback ever to play in B.C. and is a favourite of thousands of ticket buyers who may not renew if he departs.

Understudies Buck Pierce and Jarious Jackson are bound to battle for the backup spot at training camp next May. Regardless of whose names are on the depth chart, B.C.'s pivots will face the same problems with a porous offensive line that Buono spent many hours trying to justify with inquiring reporters. Buono cannot hide from the fact that Lions' quarterbacks were the most sacked in the league. Dickenson's concussion and Printers' terminal shoulder pain can be traced to the oft-maligned O-line.

Buono is also loyal to kicker Duncan O'Mahony, whom he drafted out of University of B.C. in 2001 and lured to the Lions last season. O'Mahony could very well have a long career in the CFL, but Buono kept him at the top of the depth chart during his slump too long before convincing ex-Stampeder Mark McLoughlin to emerge from retirement.

Many fans are calling for Buono's firing. That's simply not going to happen. Owner David Braley isn't going to convert his Grey Cup box office profit into a golden parachute for Buono.

Buono's skills as a general manager will be judged on how he can solve the quarterbacking controversy and fix the two weakest parts of his team. He must simply trade one of his blue-ribbon quarterbacks for a veteran kicker and a pair of veteran offensive linemen if the Lions want to earn a berth in Winnipeg for 2006's Grey Cup.


Videos

Photos