It was something like a phenomenon.
Okay, I’ll stop with the LL Cool J references but the two-time Grammy winner did set the tone for a tremendous event at BC Place Stadium Saturday.
The pre-game concert was a hit with the 33,103 fans in attendance, as was the game itself in which the B.C. Lions shut out the Edmonton Elks by a score of 22-0.
It marked the first time the Lions had blanked an opponent since August 23, 1977 when the likes of Jerry Tagge and the Cardiac Kids shutout the visiting Toronto Argonauts by a score of 30-0 at Empire Stadium.
Simply put, the 2023 home opener was a success both on and off the field.
It’s a result of Lion owner Amar Doman’s commitment to making the Lions relevant again in this province and thus far he’s shown that he is dedicated to the task. Doman’s vision is simple and that is to make every game – not just the home opener — an event. He wants fans to come to BC Place, enjoy the pre-game festivities, watch a winning team on the field and just have a great overall experience.
There’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to achieving that goal each time out but Doman and the Lions marketing team headed by President Duane Vienneau and Director of Business Operations / Marketing Carolyn Cody are doing a great job in reconnecting with fans who have been estranged from the team while connecting with new ones as well.
It was amazing to feel the buzz on Saturday but it’s a result of doing all the little things to re-engage fans whether it’s the pre-game festivities at Terry Fox Plaza or in-house game production bits that keep fans entertained.
One area that Doman is passionate about is merchandising. His goal is for the entire province to be wearing orange and black on game days and the Lions continue to work on their inventory and distribution both at BC Place and at retail outlets.
A friend of mine was looking to by some Lions merchandise about an hour before kickoff so we took the elevator down to the 200 level as I remembered that there was a merchandise shop set-up there. I was surprised to see how much bigger the retail area was than before (almost twice the size) and then even more surprised to see the volume of people shopping.
It’s just another indicator that people are buying in – literally.
As for the game itself, the Lions defence set the tone early even if two major turnovers did get called back.
After taking the opening kickoff, Edmonton quarterback Taylor Cornelius opened the game with a pass attempt that was intercepted by Lions cornerback Gary Peters. The interception didn’t stand, however, as Peters broke underneath Elks receiver Dylan Mitchell and collided with him en route to the football. It was a 50-50 call as by rule the defender has just as much right to make a play on the ball as a receiver but the pick was wiped out by the pass interference penalty.
Then faced with a 3rd-and-one on the same series, Elks quarterback Kai Locksley was stripped of the ball by Lions safety Quincy Mauger on a quarterback sneak with Mauger taking it to the house for what would have been a 56-yard touchdown. There were no whistles on the field but the Command Centre in Toronto determined that Locksley’s forward progress had been stopped and awarded the Elks a first down instead.
Regardless of the end result, the Lions defence had sent a message that they were to be the hammer and the Elks the nail for the remainder of the afternoon.
When it was all said and done, the Elks were held to 139 yards of net offence and never even got to the red zone the entire game.
As for the Lions offense, it did show the ability to move the football with 416 yards of total offense but could only manage to muster one touchdown on the afternoon – a five-yard touchdown pass by Vernon Adams Jr. to Dominique Rhymes.
Yes, the Lions were without two of their top wideouts in Lucky Whitehead and Keon Hatcher but the offense still has enough talent to be successful with the likes of Rhymes, Alexander Hollins and Jevon Cottoy as receivers.
Kicker Sean Whyte did his part by going five for six in field goal attempts but the Lions will need to show more finish if they are to have any success against the Blue Bombers in Winnipeg on Saturday.
* Whitehead (hamstring) returned to practice on Monday is as expected to play in Winnipeg. The same cannot be said of Rhymes (foot), whose foot injury kept him out of practice on Monday and in all likelihood be a game-time decision. As for Hatcher (foot), he is trending in the right and is expected to play sooner than later.
* One of the most underrated players in the CFL is Lions defensive tackle Josh Banks. Banks has no real stats to speak with 30 tackles to his credit over two years as a starter but his contributions to the defense are invaluable. There is a football expression which says “he may not make the tackle but he makes the play” and Banks is a great example of that to the point where he won the team’s defensive MVP award last season. So when he brought down Cornelius with his first career sack, the Lions bench erupted. A penalty, however, wiped out the play.
* The best news of the week is that offensive lineman Phillip Norman, who suffered what the team called a ‘significant medical episode” last week at practice, has been released from hospital and is on the road to recovery.
* From the now-you-know department – when asked if his mother would prefer him to be called “Alex” or “Alexander”, Hollins replied with “Batman”. Apparently, Hollins was a huge fan of the super hero growing up and the nickname stuck all the way through high school.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.