SURREY, B.C. – Andrew Harris has a guarantee of his own on a team full of them.
“I feel great, I feel great – that’s a guarantee,” said the B.C. running back, who will return from a one-game injury absence when the Lions host the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday.
The comment was a thinly-veiled reference to B.C. club president Dennis Skulsky’s issuance of a “guaranteed win” against the Roughriders, one of the best teams in the CFL. If the Lions (5-3) lose to the Riders (5-2), B.C. fans will get a free ticket to a future game.
The gesture, the first in the Lions’ 61-year history, is a throwback to a time when team owners guaranteed wins to help boost crowds. In this case, a loss could be an expensive setback, because the Lions anticipate their largest crowd of the season as they open the upper deck at B.C. Place Stadium, due in large part to rabid Rider fans.
But Harris, who sat out last weekend’s win in Toronto due to a sore ankle, his teammates and coaches welcomed Skulsky’s move as they held their last full practice Friday prior to Sunday’s contest – despite the added pressure that the guarantee might put on them. Regardless of whether Skulsky’s move was just a marketing ploy, Harris has gained added motivation from it.
“For me, personally, I attack every week and I guarantee myself a win,” said Harris, who leads the league in yards from scrimmage with 781. “Anything less than that is disappointing. So for the president to come out and say that, it definitely puts a little bit more fire into the blood – and (the Roughriders) are even more fired up as well.”
Harris also hopes Skulsky’s promise will lead to a better effort at home, where the usually dominant Lions are a modest 2-2.
“For us, we haven’t been that great at home,” said Harris. “We need to be better. So whatever kind of tactic it was on his part, it’s working, and we’re ready.”
Saskatchewan fans have also provided a guarantee of sorts by renting a billboard in a high-traffic area near B.C. Place that, bearing a female fan and Roughriders logo, claims “Green is the new orange” in to the clubs’ respective colours.”
“It’s just kind of disrespectful,” said Harris. “I didn’t see the billboard personally, but I think having a B.C. Lion billboard in Riderville would be upsetting to them, too.”
Either way, he added, the billboard, along with Skulsky’s guarantee, shows the importance that both teams and their fans are placing in the game. With a win, both the Lions and the Riders, who had a bye last weekend, have a chance to gain a share of first place in the West Division.
So was Skulsky’s ploy really necessary to help the Lions’ cause? Does it have the chance to harm more than help a Lions team who are looking to extend their win streak to four games?
Coach Mike Benevides said he and general manager Wally Buono discussed the guarantee with Skulsky beforehand. But Benevides, who was impressed with Skulsky’s passion as he issued the guarantee during a radio interview, dismissed the idea that the club president has put more pressure on the coaches and players.
“Pressure? When you’re in pro sports, our job is to win the game,” said Benevies. “So there is no extra pressure.”
Lions quarterback Kevin Glenn said Skulsky’s gesture was a sign of the confidence that he has in players.
“The same way that Saskatchewan has confidence in their team and they posted their (billboard) in somebody else’s town,” said Glenn. “It goes both ways. Both teams have to come out. Saskatchewan is a very good team, and we know we’re in for a battle. I think both sides know it’s going to be a good game, and we’re going to make sure that it’s a good game.”
Glenn will attempt to live up to that promise as he starts amidst seemingly added pressure from the presence of Travis Lulay, who continues to progress from off-season shoulder surgery. Lulay, who will suit up for his third game of the season, is expected to slot in occasionally, as he did in Toronto, depending on how things go for Glenn as Benevides gradually increases the usual No. 1 quarterback’s playing time.
Meanwhile, returner Tim Brown, chosen as the CFL special teams player of the week after racking up 249 return yards in Toronto, will draw back into the B.C. lineup after his status was uncertain earlier this week.
“These (Roughriders) are a huge challenge on special teams,” he said. “You have to have the best guys on the field, and (Brown) is gonna give us a chance (to win).”
Benevides has juggled his roster after saying on Monday that Brown had only a “50-50″ chance of playing because of the nuances of the league’s Canadian and import player ratio. The coach said that, contrary to his earlier comment, Brown’s place in the lineup is “100 per cent guaranteed.”
© The Canadian Press, 2014