Could the BC Lions be the team for you?
We recently ran an article giving you some pointers as to which CFL team you might want to support. It was about making the right choice for you.
That was a brief introduction to each team. Following on from that I thought it might be fun to look at each of the nine teams in a little more depth. Especially because, in that article we noted, “You need to find an affinity. Feel a connection. Have something that makes them, however they perform, very much your team.”
We started with a look at the the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Ottawa REDBLACKS, and latterly Saskatchewan Roughriders. This time we are staying in the West Division to take a look at the BC Lions and see if there is something there that will make a connection for you to want to support them.
The Lions call BC Place home. In fact they are the main tenants alongside the Vancouver Whitecaps of the MLS. They had started out in Empire Stadium for their inaugural season. It was a place they would call home up to and including the 1982 season. But in 1983 they moved into their current surroundings.
When it was built, the floor of BC Place was too small to accommodate a full-sized CFL regulation field, as a result BC Place became the first CFL stadium to use 20-yard end zones. These smaller end zones were adopted league-wide in 1986. It was the Olympic Stadium during the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2010 Paralympics. The BC Sports Hall of Fame is located within the stadium.
The stadium held its grand opening on June the 19th, 1983. Just a few days later the Lions played their first game at the new stadium, a preseason 41–19 victory against the Calgary Stampeders. A month later, on July the 24th, 1983 the Lions had their first home game in the stadium with BC defeating the Saskatchewan Roughriders 44-28 in front of a crowd of 41,810. In theory the stadium can now hold a capacity of 54,500. But the Lions highest attendance is 59,478 for a 42-22 playoff win for BC over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1985.
With lower attendances of late, the Leos management would love to see a resurgance in ticket sales even if wasn’t close to those numbers.
The BC Lions history
To begin with the BC Lions had to fight to get into the Western Interprovincial Football Union (WIFU). Afer being turned down when applying to join a couple of times, they were finally told to come up with a $25,000 bond and have general population interest for a club coming into the province. And they acheived it as the Lions are now ‘the oldest and most successful professional sports organization in British Columbia’. Find out more in the team archives here.
The Lions first-ever game was a 22-0 pre-season loss that came in 1954 to Montreal before 19,371 spectators. They would go on to lose their first competitive game 8-6 to Winnipeg at home. After posting six losses the expansion team upset Calgary 9-4 at home in September on a soggy field at Empire Stadium. The Lions were set however as they drew 135,983 fans to the first season’s eight home games.
The Lions retained support despite going 41-98-5 over their first nine seasons. Two Grey Cup appearances (and a win) in 1963-4 were followed by the Lions reverting to type. Their 1963, and ’64 seasons remained their most successful until the 1980’s. For the rest of the sixties they went 23-54-3.
The Seventies were hardly much better than the Sixites for BC. Over that decade they went 67-85-8. The lone standout season was going 10-6 in 1977. They recorded their first playoff win since the Grey Cup that year but were knocked out of the playoffs 38-1 by Edmonton.
Lions fans had to wait until 1983 before they appeared in the Grey Cup, and 1985 before they picked up their second title. Better times were ahead for Lions fans though. From 1991 to 2018 they made 25 playoff appearances and won 4 more Grey Cup titles in five big game appearances.
A safe pair of hands
Some fans like to have a classic player to associate with when coming to a new team. It makes knowing what vintage shirt to get that much easier!
For the Lions, one classic player worth mentioning is Wide Receiver Geroy Simon. He may have started his CFL career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (1999-2000), and finished it with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (2013). But Simon is most associated with his time with the BC Lions from 2001-2012.
During his time with the BC Lions, Simon played in three championship games, 2004, 2006, and 2011, winning in 2006 and again in 2011. He has the most career recpetions, (904), yardage, (14,756), and touchdowns, (93), of any BC Lions player.
He also has the second most receptions in a CFL career (1,029) and still the most ever yards (16,352) in a CFL career. During Simon’s career he played in 238 regular season games, 17 playoff games and 4 championship games winning a total of 3 Grey Cup Championships. He was a six time CFL All Star (every one as a BC Lion), and was league MOP in 2006.
Unsurprisingly he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Six of the Best
The Lions have an all-time record of 544-556-24. Their most dominant periods coming between 1983 & 1988 when they went 70-31-1. A period that saw them in six straight West Division Finals, and 3 Grey Cups, winning one in 1985.
As well as between 2004 and 2012 when they went 103-58-1 and appeared in 3 Grey Cups. Winning twice, in 2006 & 2011. This is the last time they won the Grey Cup.
BC have in fact appeared in the Grey Cup on 10 occasions, and won it six times. They only had one winning season (9-7 in 1959) in their first nine seasons. But made the Grey Cup in 1963, and won their first title in 1964.
The six Grey Cup wins for the Leos came in 1964, 1985, 1994, 2000, 2006 & 2011.
The Grey Cup for a nation
Of all the Lions’ Grey Cup wins, their win in 1994 is perhaps their most famous. This was the first Grey Cup to feature a US based team, as the 11-6-1 Lions squared off with the 12-6 Baltimore Stallions.
The Lions were backed by a hugely partisan crowd in their own backyard as 55,097 watched on at BC Place in Vancouver. It was the first Canadian versus US title matchup and for many Canadians it was a matter of national pride. What had always been an exclusively Canadian trophy was now up for grabs.
Arguably, Baltimore had a better team, and roster rules that favoured their chances against a smaller, mismatched Lions squad. But, on a wave of nationalistic pride, and wild crowd noise the Lions found a win – just. Lions legenday kicker Lui Passaglia hit a game winning 38 yard field goal as time expired for a 26-23 win.
The Lions won that day, and arguably so did the survival of the ratio of Canadian players on a squad. Baltimore would go on to be one of the great 15 win teams in 1995 and went 3-0 in the postseason too on the way to being Grey Cup Champions. The Stallions are still the only non-Canadian team ever to lift the Grey Cup. But what if they had won both? What if, with different squad rules, they had dominated both seasons? We’ll never know – but it could have changed how people looked at CFL roster ratios.
The BC Lions today
As we have seen the Leos last won the Grey Cup in 2011. The run from 2011-2012 proved to be the high point of the 2010’s for the Lions. Over those two seasons they went 24-12 and picked up a Grey Cup. Overall they went 92-88 and appeared in the playoffs on eight occasions. They will hope the coming decade sees them improve on their 3-7 playoff record over that period.
Over their last three active seasons (2017-2019), the Lions went 21-33. Making one playoff appreance in 2018, where they were beaten 48-8 by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
What the Lions do have however is a new coach, and one of the best QB’s in the league at the helm. If their O line is better than in 2019 they could be a much more competitive team this time around.
Are they right for you?
There are nine teams to choose from. This is the fourth. But could the BC Lions be the ones for you? The Lions have long been a staple of the Canadian Football League as a member club since starting out in the WIFU in 1954.
From 1997 to 2016 they were a fixture in the playoffs qualifying each season over a 20 year span — the second longest streak in the history of the league. With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Grey Cup win in 2019 after a 29-year wait, the Lions currently have the longest Grey Cup drought of the West Division teams. So nobody could accuse you of being a bandwagon jumper here.
Following a 5-13, last placed finish in the West in 2019, former REDBLACKS coach Rick Campbell was named the new head coach of the Lions on December 2, 2019. This will be his first full season at the helm, so you would be getting in at the start of somehting new if you were to adopt them now.
The Lions are one of the less well supported teams, but based in Vancouver, with no direct league competition in their province, the potential for support is there.
The BC Lions – A UK connection?
It is always good if you can find a UK connection to pin your support on. It has certainly helped stimulate even more interest in the NFL.
You might say this team is an easier choice in name alone. They are the British Columbia Lions after all. Not to mention, the Lion is one of the symbols associated with Britain. Equally of course you may want to disassociate with any sense of past colonialism. Which is why it is always good to find a player based connection.
Paul McCallum could be that connection. It took McCallum a few years to find a team and a regular kicking job in the CFL, but once he established himself, he proved to be one of the most dependable kickers in the league. Just before that however, he was the punter and placekicker for the Scottish Claymores when they won the World Bowl in 1996 contributing 46 and 50 yard field goals to the teams 32-27 win.
After a period with Saskatchewan he would turn out for the BC Lions from 2006 to 2014 and win 2 Grey Cups along the way, a well as being named Most Valuable Canadian in the 2006 Grey Cup.
Thanks to Lions superfan Dave Wardle, for pointing out another UK connection in former player Vic Chapman. Chapman played from 1952 to 1962 during his career with the BC Lions, Calgary Stampeders, Edmonton Eskimos and Montreal Alouettes. Chapman punted 838 times with a 41.3 yard average over his career. He was with the Lions from 1954-1958, and after football wound up working at Buckingham Palace!
Banner Image from cfl.ca