What is Operation Orange (cont’d)?
Arrival on the south shore of metropolitan Montréal was uneventful. Charter buses were waiting, and after the transfer of luggage we all climbed aboard. Most of the players were on one bus, but some did get on ours which did make for some person-to-person conversations about the upcoming game. The drive in to the hotel was long – it was rush hour and traffic in that entire area is never easy to navigate and supper hour only made it worse. But, when we got to the hotel (Marriott Chateau Champlain) they were organized and waiting for us, complete with assigned rooms & keys. Check in was significantly easier than I thought it might be – I think I was able to get to my room quite quickly. After putting on sandals as the city was very warm and humid I thought I should check out the hotel’s bars. First up? – the Senateur. A delightful place, the bar manager introduced me to a very nice ten-year old single malt that I had never had (Ardbeg – somewhat peaty but certainly not overwhelming, definitely smooth and quite enjoyable). Doubled and with a single super ice-cube (that never seemed to melt) it served as a basis from which the bar manager and I had a great conversation. In fact, the exchange was such that it led to a second glass…
By the time this part of the evening was over it was quite dark outside and since I was in no big hurry to go exploring on a hot and humid night, I decided to try the hotel’s culinary offerings. Perhaps not surprisingly, there was not one Canadian (let alone B.C.) red wine on the menu so I had to settle for a Robert Mondavi (California). Not bad at all, and went well with the chicken I ate – it was claimed to be prepared in a particular Québecois fashion: very good, almost home-style. I decided not to opt for dessert as the wine was more than sufficient. After a wee glance at the Weather Channel and then some TSN, I fell asleep.
An early morning workout gave me a good appetite but because the humidity was still significant and as I had already had various exploratory times in this wonderful city, breakfast at the hotel seemed to be the best option as I did not want to miss any of the pre-game activities that were going on at the hotel. An omelette with tomato juice was just what I needed. And after all was finished I went off to discover what was happening.
First event of the big day: the defensive backs were having their final pre-game meeting and near the end of it I was permitted to sit quietly at the back. This was neat – but it’s basically an off limits/in camera moment, so I will say no more other than my respect for Mark Washington (Defensive Coordinator) went up noticeably as did my appreciation of the preparation these DB’s go through.
Next: I ran into Wally Buono (head coach) in the hallway and he invited me to the pre-game Chapel. This too was an intriguing opportunity to sit with some players, coaches, trainers and so forth. It was a small group and before things got going there was some casual chatter about the pennant races in major league baseball. The Chaplain was delayed so the above mentioned Mark Washington started the session with a reference to the story of Joseph. I really wanted to see where he would go with this story; but, when the Chaplain actually showed up (apologizing for his delay – in traffic – no surprise to any of us), Mark quickly relinquished the leadership role. The Chaplain was good too. He, however, re-directed our thoughts to the story of the King and the prophet Elijah when the latter was near death. He talked about the King striking the ground three times and then stopping – tied it all in to the need to know what to do, to know how to do it (both of these steps involve outside guidance) and then to have the confidence to keep doing it until an outside force recommends stopping it. It seemed to resonate with all who attended – certainly did with me.
Next: we fans were treated to a special Wally Pep Talk. This guy is a legend for many reasons, but one of them has to be his ability to relate to fans and another is his knack at handling fans (one actually tried to contradict him and Wally deftly sat down and told him to run the briefing – too funny, actually it was priceless!!). After a short but dynamic video, including many highlights from the previous game with the RedBlacks, he provided a valuable overview of the game we would see that evening. He showed why punts are harder to defend against than kickoffs and gave some insights into why the single point convert is his favoured approach. In the straightforward and wide-ranging Q&A he also talked about preparing for the Alouettes’ stadium which is small but designed such (it is built into the mountain) that the noise at field level is much louder than many would suspect. As a result, all week the offence practices with loud noise machines. To counteract fan noise, the team employs a number of things included silent counts, hand gestures and other body motions to telegraph to different players either play-call changes or certain procedures leading to the ball being snapped. What was his most interesting discussion though was his belief in the need to get each player’s brain into the game, to get him into a state of real energy. He can tell if a player is really ready to play by having his brain engaged. Good players only play better if they are truly thinking deeply about the contest, if they are prepared to discard everything from their brain but the tasks at hand and being fully energized about it. Being loose and laid back is not helpful if the brain is in its off switch – if there is no energy. Being tense isn’t helpful either in the same brain condition that lacks energy!!