Ed Willes' musings: GM Ed Hervey preaches patience as B.C. Lions start the season 1-7
HAMILTON — In the aftermath of another loss for the B.C. Lions, here’s something else that usually collapses after a promising start: the Monday morning musings and meditations on the world of sports.
• Through their first eight games of this season, the B.C. Lions have lost games where they’ve led in the final 90 seconds, lost 50-50 games in the fourth quarter and lost games where they’ve been completely outclassed.
But, mostly they’ve just lost. Following their soul-crushing defeat in Hamilton on Saturday night, the Lions are 1-7 and now face the inevitable questions all teams in their situation face. Is it the GM? Is it the coach? Is it the players?
You can take your pick but, on Sunday, after he reviewed the game film from his team’s 35-34 loss to the Tiger-Cats, Lions GM Ed Hervey offered head coach DeVone Claybrooks a vote of confidence.
“I believe in Clay,” Hervey said. “I believe he’s been doing everything he can to get the most out of the players. When I talk to the leadership group, even after (Saturday’s game), there’s a sense of optimism. They understand we just need to make a play here or there.”
And maybe it’s that simple. In looking at the box score from Saturday night, it’s inconceivable the Lions could have lost that game. They led in time of possession 37:01 to 22:59. They had 30 first downs to the Ticats’ 20. They had more than 450 yards in offence.
But they were undone by four or five critical plays in the fourth quarter, and here we are again.
“I understand people are frustrated,” Hervey said. “But we’re working on something and that requires patience.
“We believe we’ll start winning games and change the narrative of our season.”
• It’s hard to know where to start on the Lions’ fix-it list, but the complete lack of a pass rush should rank at the top.
Saturday night in Hamilton, the Lions didn’t record a sack against Ticats quarterback Dane Evans and failed to provide anything resembling pressure. In the fourth quarter, the Ticats trailed by 15 and everyone in the stadium knew Evans had to throw on virtually every down. The Lions still couldn’t make things uncomfortable for the Tabbies’ backup.
It was the same story against Nick Arbuckle and Calgary in Week 3. They also lost back-to-back games to Saskatchewan and their backup Cody Fajardo.
Rush end Odell Willis has been a great CFL player but he’s a spent force. Tackle Davon Coleman was all-CFL last season but has been a major disappointment this season.
Change has to be coming here. At least you hope that’s the case.
• Attended the Canadian Football Hall of Fame ceremonies on Friday night in Hamilton and felt fortunate to witness the celebration of the Canadian game.
The seven inductees — the late Ernie Pitts, Mervyn Fernandez, David Williams, Jon Cornish, Terry Greer, JimHopson and former UBC coach Frank Smith — covered six decades and represented a vivid cross-section of our game.
Fernandez, Williams and Greer are the greatest receiving class to enter the hall. Pitts was a two-way force with the powerhouse Blue Bombers teams of the late ’50s and early ’60s. Cornish, at his peak, was the second-greatest Canadian player I ever saw after Russ Jackson. Smith is a football lifer who spent 21 years as the coach and conscience of the UBC football program.
It was also evident what this moment meant to each man and their families. Williams, in one of the more poignant moments of the ceremony, talked about his fear of public speaking, then threw away his prepared notes and spoke from the heart about what the CFL had done for him.
In another, Cornish, a New Westminster kid, waited to help the 87-year-old Smith navigate the stairway down from the staging area.
The only downer from the night, in fact, was the lack of attendance by both fans and the media. This should have been appointment viewing. This should be one of the save-the-date events for the league. Instead, there were about 300 fans in attendance at Tim Hortons Field, and your agent, who was there as a fan, was the only media member there.
The CFL has never known how to celebrate itself. This was a perfect opportunity and it was lost.
• And finally, there have been CFL receivers who put up bigger numbers than Fernandez. There have been receivers who had longer careers and there are certainly receivers who had more celebrated careers.
But if you saw Fernandez in his prime, you know there has never been a more graceful, more athletic, more poetic receiver in the history of the Canadian game.
Fernandez also registered as a distant and aloof sort in his playing days, which is unfortunate because the Mervyn who went into the hall on Friday night was a different man. On at least four occasions during his speech he was overcome with emotion and had to step away from the mike.
He also talked about his academic difficulties and how Lions scout John Herrera gave him a chance in the game. He talked about his relationship with Lions quarterback Roy Dewalt, and there’s never been a prettier sight in the CFL than Merv running under one of Dewalt’s 60-yard rainbows. He talked about how he directed Williams — who was a replacement player on the Raiders during the 1987 NFL strike — to the CFL.
Fernandez turns 60 in December. He lives in the San Jose area and has six grandchildren. He says he’s now just a guy who mows his lawn and spends time with his family and he wondered if the hall would ever come calling.
When it did, he was moved to the soul of his being.
“I’m a big crybaby anyway,” he said, laughing, during the Lions’ game on Saturday night. “The emotional part came when I spoke to my wife and kids about our journey and all the things that have happened in between.
“We’re a strong family and it all caught up to me in that moment. It’s all real. It was a great night and I’ll cherish it forever. I’ve got my ring now and my jacket and they’ll never get it back.”
In six years with the Lions, Fernandez had four 1,000-yard seasons capped by his MOP campaign in 1985 (95 catches, 1,727 yards, 15 touchdowns). He also had an underappreciated six-year career with the Raiders which included a 1,000-yard season and two 800-yard years.
He was asked if he should have gone to the NFL earlier.
“Who knows how things could have turned out?” he answered. “I just know I chose the road I did and it worked out.”
And he’s thankful for that.
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