The Epistle of Q — Chapter Eighty (Part I)

What is Operation Orange and Why is It of Any Importance? {OR, why did I show up in Montreal last Friday night?}

First of all, in this instance it is organized by the BC Lions CFL Football Club and includes a charter flight with Canadian North from YVR to YHU (St. Hubert, QC) and return. It’s not something that I would do everyday as some might even call it a frivolous expense, almost an extravagant bucket list item (if I had a bucket list). But ever since I was in high school playing football I wondered what it might be like to travel with a pro football team. My curiosity was peaked further by college-time through two books: Instant Replay by Gerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers and NY Jet’s qb Joe Willie Namath’s Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow (‘cause I get better looking everyday). These books provided insights into the camaraderie, the sense of family and the ways these pro’s prepared for their game.

Now I did do some sports travel in high school but it was by old beaten up buses (the kinds used in movies from the 1940’s) and the distances were relatively short. Furthermore, our football team – never a real gridiron threat – often travelled in uniform (change rooms must have been an option in the schools of that era in our part of Ontario!!). Basketball was a little more upscale, probably because we usually won our league and regional conference, so went to provincial finals. But in college, when I moved into the broadcast booth, I often drove myself in a sponsor’s Camaro – only once did I fly and even then it was not with the team. So when the invitation came to join the BC Lions on their trip to play the Montréal Alouettes late this summer, I finally decided it was time to experience it all.

The venture required me to drive in to Vancouver the day before (Wednesday) as everyone had to be at the charter terminal before 7:00 a.m. as the flight would be boarded & off the ground no later than 8:00 a.m. (and there were regular check-in and security protocols to go through – including producing my passport). Not wanting to miss the deadline, staying at an old friend’s I went to bed in good time, somewhat earlier than normal. Even then I only slept my usual 5/6 hours so I was awake almost an hour before the alarm!

The drive through the city was relatively uneventful as the streets were basically empty (certainly not to be mistaken for New York City!!). Arriving at the Southside Landmark Aviation Terminal even the parking lot was quite devoid of vehicles. The good thing was I was able to score an excellent location. With the reception area not yet open I finished a crossword puzzle, then paid for parking and napped a bit!!

When traffic started to pick up I realized the terminal was now open so I took my stuff, went in, had my baggage weighed, and after showing my passport received a Boarding Pass and was directed to the Executive Lounge. One of the first to arrive, it then slowly but surely filled up. Our fan rep from the Lions gave all the fans a package including a very sharp BC Lions sideline jacket along with other goodies and the flight itinerary. While awaiting the word to board I found myself seated beside a number of the francophone players – mon français est très pauvre so I just sat and listened. But these people speak just like my sister-in-law Lise – at the speed of sound. Even if I would have uttered a few introductory phrases, I couldn’t have got them in edgewise!!

Boarding was the old-fashioned way – out across the tarmac and up the portable flight stairs into the 737. The plane was conventionally seated: three a-breast on each side of the single aisle. The assigned seating was, however, only two people in each three-seat section. This was a wise decision in many instances because there are some big boys that accompanied us on this trip!! Once we were all seated (because I was travelling by myself, I was placed one row from the back, alongside the fan rep) the regular announcements were made, seat belts fastened and we experienced a successful liftoff.

As I settled back for the approximately five hour flight, I looked around the cabin and reflected that it is hard to imagine that it’s been in my lifetime that teams like the University of Texas Longhorns and the NFL’s Washington Redskins actually started accepting black players. The BC Lions would be a small roster if not for the preponderance of African-Americans and young Canadians of similar ancestral roots.

The rest of the flight was relatively uneventful, in fact pretty normal…some snacks, and at one point a meal, drinks were non-alcoholic, the flight attendants were very efficient; and, the passengers generally focussed on their own issues, interests and ideas. Sometimes players would get into conversations, or share some jokes, but nothing all that unusual or unexpected. I ended up sleeping for part of the journey.

But I will say that Odell Willis is larger than life in civilian clothes as he is when he dons his uniform. And, he is funny – he can put on an accent that is almost as if it is from the deepest part of the African continent. He has the ability to lighten up the room as well as the conversation. He sat right in front of me and I certainly enjoyed the resultant experience. The only other players that significantly caught my eye during the flight were Chris Rainey for the most outrageous suit – I thought I was on a time-wrap back to graduate school in the late sixties – and the newly arrived Posey who was very respectful of everyone including the fans aboard the plane. He’s a guy you just naturally like when you meet him and you want him to succeed (I did tell him that I wasn’t impressed with the way he played in the Grey Cup as I had my money on the Stampeders – he laughed and said he would try to do better for me this season!!).