VANCOUVER - Wally Buono told his team before they arrived at their remodeled home here Thursday afternoon to go out there and feel free to be fools.
“You’re allowed to be fools until 4 p.m.,” he said of the B.C. Lions walking into their new $563-million renovated den for the first time.
“You can act like school boys until four. Come down here and have your lookie, lookie day, have your pictures taken in the locker-room and have your pictures taken on the field. But when it’s 4 p.m., it’s time to leave and be a pro and get ready for the three hours you’ll come back to play here.”
This year the wow factor roles are reversed.
“Last year we entered our new facility for the first time the day before we played the Lions and they came out and beat us,” said Edmonton Eskimos’ quarterback Ricky Ray.
There are those in the Eskimos organization who believe they made a huge mistake by not getting the team into their new dressing room and $125-million worth of improvements at Commonwealth Stadium until the day before the game. It proved to be an overwhelming distraction.
“It’s not going to be a distraction for us here this year,” said Ray of coming in to play the Lions who got their first peak and practice in the facility at 3 p.m. Thursday.
“Half our guys have never been in this place before,” said Ray, who along with receiver Fred Stamps and coach Kavis Reed took a cab here an hour before the Lions showed up while the rest of the team checked into an airport hotel. Meanwhile, Buono gathered his team to stay overnight in a downtown hotel.
“We have our own goal and it’s not to check out this new stadium and see how the roof opens and closes,” said Ray.
“I’d say 60% of our players have never been to BC Place before. This is their first time in the city and the first time they’ll see the stadium,” said Reed.
The new head coach will bring them to the place an hour earlier than normal Friday to try out the new turf. But he intentionally booked them at the airport hotel to keep them away from downtown Vancouver.
Reed wasn’t here to remember how it worked last year at Commonwealth Stadium when the Eskimos moved into their new home.
Throughout all of training camp none of the players had been allowed a sneak peak. When the ribbon was cut, an entire herd of overgrown, bull-in-a-china-shop sort of guys looked like kids in a lineup on their first trip to see Santa Claus. As they entered it turned into Easter as they searched the state-of-the-art room to hunt down where their game uniforms were hanging in their individually inscribed locations.
While you could hear the ooohs, it was mostly the awe. And there was a lot of cheap talk about how a dressing room and a $125-million Commonwealth Stadium renovation might win a football game the next night.
And then they went out the next night and played it and ... 10 points.
That’s all they scored.
The last time the Edmonton Eskimos had scored 10 points in a home opener was way back in 1973.
That was five years before Commonwealth Stadium was built.
The Lions ran all over the Eskimos in a 25-10 embarrassment to open a Grey Cup hosting season on empty. B.C. would go on to lose their next seven games.
One thing that isn’t going to send the Lions into some sort of state is their dressing room. It’s the same as the basic visitors room except for the Lion logo painted on the floor.
But the rest of the building wowed em.
“It’s exciting,” said veteran Lion Angus Reid.
“You’re eyes really do pop coming in here.
“I can’t believe it’s the same place. The field is fantastic. And it’s going to be fun to watch the replays of the plays we make on that scoreboard,” he said of the second largest video board in North America.
But a distraction on game day that could stop the Lions five-game winning streak?
“Wally made it clear all week. Get your lookie, lookies out now, take a look at the scoreboard, check out the dressing room, look around, see where your family will be sitting. There really will be distractions. But we can’t lose track of why we’re here, even for a second.”
It won’t be like this three weeks from now when the Eskimos come back here to play again. But this game sets up like few games these two teams will ever play.