Wally Buono: Thank-you
I don’t write many blogs posts anymore. Simply put, the podcast takes up enough of my free time and I had to make a choice.
That said, Wally Buono is winding down his CFL career and I didn’t feel I could say what I wanted to say on a podcast, versus taking the time this man deserves to convey the gratitude from me as not only a BC Lions fan, but a CFL fan.
As the BC Lions head into this week, a win away from clinching a playoff spot in Buono’s final season, I needed to express my feelings on the man who has represented this team with class and dignity for the last 16 seasons.
Buono arrived to an organization in shambles, and along with the late Bob Ackles, reignited my passion for the BC Lions.
I’ve been a Lions fan for 42 of my nearly 50 years on this earth, but I admit for a short period of time I had drifted away from the team. During my late teen years and early 20’s I had stopped going to games, still watching on TV when the games were on. None of my friends were interested in going to the games, so I stopped going too.
But when Buono arrived, he brought instant credibility to the team. Working with Ackles, Buono quickly made it apparent that the status quo would not be tolerated any longer. This organization was going to operate Wally’s way…one that had a proven track record of success, and it didn’t take long to get things turned around.
In the first five seasons under Buono (2003–2007), the Lions went 62–27–1 in regular-season play, with five straight playoff appearances, four straight first-place finishes (2004–2007), and two Grey Cup appearances: a 27-19 loss to the Toronto Argonauts in 2004 and a 25-14 victory over the Montreal Alouettes in 2006.
I’ve been a season ticket holder for the whole Buono era, and next year will be my 17th straight season with tickets. If it wasn’t for Wally Buono, I honestly don’t know if this would be the case. There have been highs and lows, thrills and devastating disappointments, but that’s the life of a sports fan, it’s part of the ride. But I am hooked for life now because this passion has developed into me devoting even more time to the game, as a fan, blogger and podcaster.
The highlight of course was the 2011 season. The Lions dug themselves a hole starting the year with five straight losses. In a year when they were hosting the Grey Cup, they were 1-6 when they turned their season around, in one of the best worst to first seasons that this league has ever seen.
It was in this season, where Buono did his finest work and the Lions rebounded to win 10 of their last 11 games on the way to an 11-7 record, a west final win over Edmonton and a Grey Cup win at a newly renovated BC Place stadium over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
He walked away from the sidelines after that season, but you never truly got the feeling that it was the last we would see of him. Wally needed to be involved in the action; lived it…it’s who he is. After two failed attempts at replacing him, Buono realized that inner passion was still there and knew he had to return.
Faith, Family, Food and Football
Buono is an ambassador for this league. He is an icon. It doesn’t matter what CFL event you attend, if Wally walks in the room, people flock to him. Whether it’s to chat, ask for a photo, an autograph or simply to shake his hand, he’s Wally, and everyone knows who he is and what he’s done for this league.
He’s a devoted husband, father and grandfather. Speak to any of his children and it’s apparent how much they love and respect their dad. A tribute to not only the man who had to sacrifice so much to be successful, but also to his wife Sande, who has supported him and been the matriarch of the Buono family for the whole ride. After this season, they will get him back full time, and they deserve that. He deserves that.
He takes time to speak to everyone who wants a moment of his time, and realizes that though things have changed and evolved over the years, the CFL is a fan driven league.
The end of an era is coming in BC Lions football, and the Canadian Football League. It’s my dream one day to have Wally Buono join us on the podcast. But I want to wait until he’s done coaching to bring out as much as we can from him. His journey has been a fascinating one and one would hope there could be a book in the future, filled with stories from his time in this league.
I just want to say thank you to a man who brought my passion back. A man that has represented this team and this league with class.
If you have ever been a Lions fan under this regime, and for whatever reason you have stopped coming to games, the Lions have two home games left. Now is the time to come and say thank you to Wally yourself.
Now go get them coach…you deserve that final chapter to be a thriller.