What is Operation Orange…? (the conclusion…)
The plane-ride home was obviously joyous – before even taking off it was actually loud, almost raucous. I had the chance to again thank Posey and he was mostly happy with his initial performance; chatted with Lulay about the Montreal injury curse, but he was already upbeat about getting healed; Wally was simply happy. Jennings was quite humble about his performance, saying that he has much to do to get better but he sure enjoyed looking at the score board at the end of the game and really thanked the defence. And, I finally was able to say a little French to Foucault: he smiled and appreciated my effort and I told him about my thoughts the morning before to which he really chuckled (I was glad because he is one big dude and I’d hate to get him even a little annoyed, or not find me funny!!).
The funniest moment though, once again, came with Odell. I thanked him for his part in the win and told him that I didn’t think he was offside on a couple of key plays but his team-mates all yelled – sure he was, we saw him!! But I countered and said that on the second one, we in the stands all saw the Als’ left tackle move a foot back. With that Odell looked at the #11 on my jersey (I was wearing my ‘11 Grey Cup Lions version) and said very loudly – here’s my man, this guy knows football!! More laughter ensued and then I said to him, I was very proud of everyone, but especially him, and afterall, I pay their salaries… That brought more laughter, except for T.J. Lee and Odell who said: How ‘bout a raise? At that point I was thankful the Flight Attendants were starting the process to get the seat belts on and everyone in their right seats. I’m not sure what it would have been like had they lost but there was no question this was one very happy plane load of very energized grown-up kids…even the fans were in fine, exuberant form!!
Throughout the unloading of the bus and getting into the plane, the energy Wally had talked about was present – yet as we lifted off something interesting happened. Things quieted down – a couple of players passed around extra snacks, others came and thanked the fans for making the trip. Most though began reviewing the game on various tablets – yes, in the aftermath of a solid win, here were guys studying their own performances. I’d like to thank T.J. Lee for letting me actually watch for a few minutes as he pointed out not just his pick six but some of his miscues. He discussed the need to see quickly some of the problems he wanted to better understand as well as why certain plays really worked in his favour. It was an intriguing insight into just how professional these guys are. He even gave credit to the other team: they’re professionals too you know, each guy is trying to beat me, just like I’m trying to do the same to them. Certainly this particular experience has significantly ramped up my respect for the team, in fact for the entire league – and just maybe I’ll be a little less quick to try to be a sideline qb/coach/critic in the future.
An hour into the flight, the plane was full of three types of players – those studying, those finished studying and now mellowing, those resting before doing their studying (once the tablets were available). The fourth group, the fans, coaches and the like were basking in the aura of a winning team. Then the flight attendants served up a hot meal (chicken or beef) and so the cabin lights came on again (I’d had chicken at the hotel, so I switched to beef).
Now that the cabin was fully lit, Wally came down the aisle, saying something to every player and then he spent several minutes talking to the fans, answering questions, thanking us all for coming to add support and he even gave a wee hint what next year in retirement might be like. He also explained that Odell is so fast that as the centre moves the ball, Odell moves and sometimes it is too fast for the officials to fully appreciate and so he is flagged – unfortunately but also unjustly. It was an interesting comment because he hadn’t been there for the earlier pre-liftoff discussions. Wally is the genuine deal – he’s folksy, he’s personable and he is smart (about football, about people, about life) – and we are all going to miss him come the 2019 season. Maybe that’s why I’m hoping the Lions keep on this roll – it would be great to be in the Grey Cup and win for him, as well as for each other.
The rest of the flight was in a dark and quiet cabin. People slept, some occasionally read, but mostly it was a flying dormitory – everyone in their own little space, trying to catch up on whatever shut-eye they could. Head winds slowed down the return process; we didn’t land till almost 4:00 a.m. PDT but no one seemed to mind. Waking up and knowing the victory was no dream made every one a little brighter. And for me the drive home to Penticton was just fine – traffic was relatively light throughout. Stopped for fuel and brekkie in Hope. Stopped at the new Loon Lake rest-stop on the Connector for a restful two hour deep sleep. Arrived in the garage, happy that I had participated, thankful for the insights and joyful that the Lions had won on the road for the first time this season.
By the way, I really can’t say enough about Odell Willis. I knew about him when he played elsewhere, especially during his time with the Edmonton Eskimos. But having him sit right in front of me gave me a surreal opportunity to see this character up close and personal. He is big, strong, humourous and smart, and a lot of fun to be in the vicinity of!! I hope some weekend in the future I can arrange to have dinner with him and maybe invite Lemon, Posey, TJ Lee and Peters to join us (although Burnham would be welcome too – he was most gracious when I congratulated him on his night and especially the touchdown pass – he said it was a team effort on each play he makes). Whether I could afford the steaks is the question, but it all would be worth it I think. Odell would provide the humour, TJ the thinking, Posey the perspective and the others no doubt would provide insights and introspections worthy of fine wine. Maybe I’ll try to set it up…
In any case, Operation Orange is over for me – definitely worth the time, the ride and the moments… Thanks to our fan rep Sarah Hale, Wally and the entire roster and supporting casts – a moment in time, to remember for all time…