The last time the B.C. Lions travelled to Hamilton they didn’t have Solomon Elimimian in the lineup, but they did run into a Tiger-Cats team primed for a street fight.
The former will change for Sunday’s crossover game at Tim Hortons Field. As for the latter, the contest figures to be even more intense. It just remains to be seen if the Lions will join the fight this time.
The future hall-of-famer has been out of the lineup since suffering a non-fracture wrist injury in the Lions’ fourth game of the season. In the interim, he’s had surgery to repair a dislocation, made two appearances on the six-game injury list and missed 14 games. The great linebacker has now been practising with the Lions for a couple of weeks and all indications are he’ll suit up for Sunday’s ruckus in Steeltown.
The next question concerns his role and that’s where things get a little murky.
“That’s a good question,” Elimimian said. “Things are fluid right now. We all took reps. I’ll give my opinion on how I feel and (Lions head coach) Wally (Buono) will make a decision from there.”
Over to you Wally.
“The thing is he looks more comfortable,” Buono said. “We talk. The big thing for him is he has to feel he can do his job. If he can, he’s going to give us a big lift.”
Which doesn’t really answer the question, but advance information from Buono is usually in short supply heading into the playoffs.
On Thursday, Elimimian took the majority of reps with the starting defence, which indicates he’ll step back into his role as the every-down middle linebacker. Jordan Herdman is still around and he’ll see playing time against the Ticats. But it also means Micah Awe, who’s been solid since rejoining the Lions in mid-August, is unlikely to play.
The trade-off there is Awe’s athleticism versus Elimimian’s experience and leadership, and while Buono wasn’t sharing details about Elimimian’s deployment, the coach did expound on the intangibles that the CFL’s two-time defensive player of the year brings to the table.
“He has a presence,” Buono said. “He brings a physicality, an intensity, but also an accountability. To have that kind of leader in the biggest game of the season is a big plus.”
Elimimian was asked what can be expected from someone playing their first game in 3 1/2 months.
“The doctors can give you the risks and the percentages, but if I feel I can help my team I’m going to step on the field,” he said. “I’m comfortable where I am. Three, four weeks ago I wasn’t there. I’m better than I was a week ago.”
Elimimian now becomes a key figure in game that comes equipped with its own juicy storylines. In late September, the Lions travelled to Hamilton after edging the Tabbies in an epic overtime game at B.C. Place Stadium and inadvertently created a firestorm involving backup fullback Davie Mackie.
As part of a rookie tradition, Mackie was made to dance in front of his teammates. The problem was the dance was conducted on the Ticats’ logo, then shown on video that didn’t go over well with the home team.
The game, in fact, had an air of menace during the warm-up, when several Ticats jostled Lions kicker Ty Long; during the game, which featured several profane exchanges between the two teams; and even after the game when Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence scuffled with Lions receiver Shaq Thompson outside the Lions’ team bus.
Oh yes. The Tiger-Cats also pummelled the Lions 40-10 in their worst defeat of the season.
According to Buono, the CFL investigated the incident and the matter died there for the Lions, which is how most of the players see things.
“That stuff was something they created to get motivation,” said Odell Willis. “We meant nothing by it. We meant no disrespect. As a football player, you should be motivated just by waking up and having a job. It’s hard enough to come out here and compete every day. if you need something extra to motivate you you’re in the wrong business.”
Thompson, meanwhile, declined to comment on the scrap and six weeks after the fact it’s easy to play down its significance. But it also occurred in a public space where fans mingle with players, punches were thrown and several Lions ran off the team bus to come to Thompson’s aid.
In other words, it could have got as ugly as the Lions’ performance, but Long, who showed some fire when asked about his role in the fracas, said billing this one as a revenge game is erroneous.
“I was hitting my field goals before the game like I always do and a few guys ran into me (including wide receiver Brandon Banks who’s out with an injury),” said Long, who was named the West Division’s nominee for outstanding special teams play Thursday. “It pisses you off. You don’t do it when I’m looking. You do it when my back’s turned.
“But we’re going out to play the game. That’s all it is. None of us are in there saying, ‘We owe them.’ That’s not who we are.”
Maybe, but we’ll have a better idea who they really are after Sunday.
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