Lions prove championship mettle

Lions general manager and head coach Wally Buono hoists the Grey Cup after defeating the Blue...

Lions general manager and head coach Wally Buono hoists the Grey Cup after defeating the Blue Bombers during the CFL's 99th Grey Cup game at BC Place in Vancouver, B.C., Nov. 27, 2011. (ANDRE FORGET/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:32 AM ET

VANCOUVER - The orange and white confetti covered the field and the B.C. Lions, including their coach, seemed to linger forever at the scene.

"They proved they are champions," said Wally Buono. "In the end, it was character that we had got us through the season."

Buono wouldn't rank this win with the others.

"When you win, it's always the best. You can't start ranking the wins."

Angus Reid, who like his coach may call it quits at the end of the season, was willing to rank it.

"It's the ultimate achievement," he said. "Winning the Grey Cup is the pinnacle in this sport, but to win it at home is something that doesn't happen very often."

It wasn't a Grey Cup for the ages. But it was a season to be remembered forever for the B.C. Lions.

And what a way to go out for Wally Buono, if that's what he choses to do now that he's matched Hugh Campbell and Don Matthews with five Grey Cup wins, most by a coach.

Winning a home Grey Cup in the famed Staples Ice Bowl game in Montreal in 1977 as a player and making the Lions only the second team to win a home Grey Cup since bookends Buono's career perfectly.

Buono wouldn't offer any hint about whether he'll step down as coach after the win. But he said he won't keep people waiting long.

"It's not the proper time," he said of announcing his decision. "I don't think you can hold an organization hostage. Coaches have to know their futures. It's something that has to be done fairly quickly."

What a remarkable story the Lions have written this year. They were 0-5 and 1-6 at the front end of the season and then won 12 of their last 13 after a large percentage of the populace appeared to be in favor of the coach calling it a career then and there.

"It feels pretty special to celebrate with this group of guys," said Travis Lulay, the most outstanding player of the season and the most valuable player of the Grey Cup.

"It's surreal," said defensive lineman Brent Johnson. "The way we came from where we were to where we are right now was such a journey. All these guys, they worked their asses off. And it paid off. Everybody was putting us asside, but if you stick with your teammates, good things will happen."

Buono said it was exceptionally satisfying.

"There's tremendous pride to be able to share a championship," he said of doing it with owner David Braley and Vancouver, a city which came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup in the spring.

"A lot of guys came through. We won the line of scrimmage. We were better at the line of scrimmage. Out defensive front, I thought, did an outstanding job," said Buono.

With a final score of 34-23, it might sounds like it was a great game. It wasn't. But for a minute there ...

In a way, one play may have saved the day.

O.K., it's hard to say that. But the Bombers were hanging on, hanging on and keeping themselves in a game there was evidence they didn't belong in.

But when Lulay threw a 66-yard home run ball to low-profile receiver Kierrie Johnson for a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter, they finally grabbed the game by the throat.

"They don't ask you how many points you win by. They ask you if you win," said Buono.

The way this thing started, it looked like it was going to be more of the same kind of domination the Lions showed in winning their final regular season game 43-1 over Montreal.

In the end it was more like the Lions' 40-23 win over the Edmonton Eskimos in the Western final.

"We didn't get into a rhythm," said Winnipeg coach Paul LaPolice. "We couldn't get first downs running the ball. Certainly, we have to play better if we want to win a championship.

"We needed to make more plays. We had bad field position at the start of the game and couldn't get out of that. We have to stay on the field."

Winnipeg, dead last in the league a year ago, has plenty of reason to savor this season as well, especially as they head into a brand new stadium next season.

"Those emotions are not ready for anybody in that room right now," said LaPolice.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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