After a year off, the BC Lions are looking to regain momentum as the new season begins
By Craig Allan, Business Manager
On November 2, 2019, the British Columbia Lions lost to the Calgary Stampeders. This brought the end to their 2019 season. With the playoffs far out of sight by this point, the Lions looked to overhaul their roster for a better 2020 season. This included firing head coach DeVone Claybrooks, bringing in veteran coach and Grey Cup champion Rick Campbell, and finding offensive linemen that could help defend Michael Reilly (who was sacked more than any other quarterback in the league).
Little did the Lions (or anyone else) know, planning for a Canadian Football League season in 2020 would be a fruitless endeavour. After being refused a loan from the government and unable to make a significant enough profit without fans in the stands due to COVID-19, the CFL decided to cancel the 2020 season. After 21 months and an offseason that included discussions of a possible merger with the upstart XFL that ultimately fell through (thank god), the CFL is finally beginning a shortened 2021 CFL season this week.
This season will be a rebuilding year for the Lions. This is evident from their defensive line, which will be almost entirely assembled with players that have little to no CFL experience. The offensive line will also be overhauled to provide more protection for Michael Reilly. New offensive line coach Kelly Bates, who came in midway through 2019, already began to yield noticeable improvements in the offensive line in the ladder half of the season. Bates is no doubt hoping that the long layoff does not stop the momentum he and the offense developed last year.
This season will also see the Lions enter a period of uncertainty regarding ownership as well. This is because their long-time owner, David Braley—who owned the team since 1996—passed away in October. While Braley has left the team with enough money to get through the next three seasons (though this number might be inaccurate as it may not factor in the pandemic) this does represent a time of great uncertainty for the Lions. It is no secret that the CFL has struggled to gain the support of fans in the major markets of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. With the CFL in a very precarious position right now due to not playing the 2020 season, the Braley family estate may have trouble finding a new owner to take on a team that has consistently lost fans season after season.
On a personal note, I am excited for the return of the Lions. I have been a Lions season ticket holder since 2004 and the Lions being there has helped me get through some tough times. Whenever I would be working two jobs, six days a week (11 shifts in a row in some cases), knowing that going to Lions games gave me an excuse to take a day off. I always viewed BC Place as kind of like my summer home; a home that I have to get patted down before I go in, but a home none the less.
I have had a lot of sporting fandom disappointment in my life. Whether it was the Vancouver Grizzlies of the National Basketball Association moving in 2001 or the Montreal Expos of Major League Baseball moving in 2004, sports teams have always let me down in ways very few fans ever experience. The Lions are the outlier. Sure, they don’t win the championship every year, but they have always been there, and with my record of sports fandom, that is enough.
This already weird season is starting off on an uneven foot already. Not only are they not facing any pre-season opponents, but they had to cut their training camp in Kamloops short due to the wildfire smoke in the area.
Hopefully this will not hurt the Lions as they look to improve from their last season. As they get set to play this critical season of CFL football, the Lions will no doubt be trying to win over the event-starved fans of Vancouver and maybe get the attention of some owners with deep pockets. The Lions are the oldest professional team on the Canadian West Coast, and a good season can help ensure that streak continues long into the future.