It’s not the kind of streak you’ll find in the B.C. Lions’ record book. Nevertheless, it’s a streak of which the organization has to be very proud: for 16 consecutive seasons, the Lions have had at least one player walk away with a year-end CFL award singling them out for exceptional play in one of six categories: outstanding player, defensive player, Canadian, and lineman, special teams, and rookie of the year.
Every year since 1996, a B.C. Lion has been presented with a trophy. However, that is a streak that is very much in jeopardy at the midway mark of the 2013 season.
Football is the ultimate team game, and, to a man, the Lions players will tell you that they’re far more concerned with the wins and losses than they are with personal accomplishments. It’s a point worth noting.
But the fact that the streak of individual honours is in jeopardy goes a long way toward explaining how and why this team has lurched to a 6-3 record at the midway mark of the 2013 schedule—with a lack of consistency from anyone at any position.
For a decade and a half now, Lions fans have been treated to a lineup that has included at least one player deemed to be better than his peers. They’ve come to expect someone in orange and black to be singled out for an individual performance judged superior to that of anyone else in the league. And with Labour Day now in the rear-view mirror and the second half of the season at hand, it will take a near-superhuman effort from any of the Lions the rest of the way in order to be recognized when the league awards are doled out during Grey Cup week in Regina in late November.
To put the Lions’ 16-year hardware haul in perspective, consider that Hamilton has the second-longest active streak of award winners at just three years. Even in a small league like the CFL, that shows how tough it is to have one of the top players year after year. Somehow the Lions’ scouts and management have been able to unearth, develop, and hold on to exceptional talent. But it looks like those trips to the podium are about to come to an end.
TSN, the league broadcaster, spent halftime of a recent game asking its panel to pick the midseason award winners. There were no Lions among them, and only running back Andrew Harris got so much as a mention as a contender for top Canadian.
Linebacker Solomon Elimimian has had some nights when his play has been of all-star calibre, but he has also been injured and missed one game and a big chunk of another. When he’s at the top of his game, he’s as good as anyone playing defence in the league. But durability and the time lost to injury will likely be held against him in the discussion for defensive player of the year.
And kick returner Tim Brown exploded for spectacular touchdowns in consecutive games in August, helping to build his case for being named the league’s top special-teams player. But this is the same Tim Brown who lost his spot in the lineup earlier in the year due to ineffectiveness. And that will certainly hamper his chances of being recognized at year’s end.
Beyond those two, though, there really haven’t been any other contenders.
What you’ve seen from the Lions in the first half of the season is inconsistency and a record that is probably better than the team’s overall performance has indicated. The Lions are a perfect 5-0 on home turf. And although they haven’t really put their claws into anyone at B.C. Place (their biggest win was by 10 points), they have found ways to grind out wins at home.
But they are very much a work in progress on the road, where they’ve managed just one victory so far and will play five of their final nine games.
Unless they clean up their act away from home, they’ll likely be doomed to play postseason games on the road. And considering that neither Saskatchewan nor Calgary—the two teams ahead of the Lions in the West Division standings—has yet dropped a game in front of its home fans either, it’s pretty clear that home field is a huge advantage this season and will be a significant boost for whichever teams can lock it down for the playoffs.
One look at the B.C. Lions roster shows plenty of high-end individual talent. That’s not the issue. An underwhelming first half of the season may mean an end to the team’s long run of individual award winners (the last time the Lions got ignored by voters was 1996, when they were a dismal 5-13), but it’s not too late for almost every player to take a hard look at himself and realize he has more to give.
The only way the Lions will overtake Saskatchewan and Calgary is by getting better—more consistent—performances, starting with quarterback Travis Lulay, who had his best game of the year so far in a 29-26 win over Hamilton on August 30. Lulay has to hope that his first 300-yard passing game is a sign of better things to come.
Some years, a 6-3 record would have the B.C. Lions atop their division at the midway mark. It’s pretty obvious that 2013 isn’t one of those years, so the hard work starts now for the team.
However, although individual awards are nice, there’s a team trophy the Lions really want to get their hands on. If enough players take their games to a higher level in the second half of the season, the Grey Cup remains within the Lions’ reach.