Athletes need to toughen up

Canadian weather conditions have an ability to make athletes tougher.

I was listening to the B.C. Lions lick their wounds on Sunday night after a tough loss that eliminated them from the Grey Cup this year. British Columbia sports fans are used to watching our dejected sports heroes try to explain what went wrong.

It doesn’t matter if it is the Canucks, the Lions, the Whitecaps or the Giants, the clichés are usually pretty much the same. “We underperformed, we left our best game behind, we came out flat, and we weren’t prepared.” All of our teams have had some playoff successes, but the word dynasty is never associated with a Vancouver sports franchise. The back-to-back championships never seem to emerge. I think West Coast athletes get complacent.

Out here we have a laid-back lifestyle that tends to drain aggression from folks who have been here for awhile. For instance, one football player who had been traded from Toronto was talking about crossing the street in downtown Vancouver. “I was at the crosswalk and a car going in each direction stopped. I thought to myself that they were maybe setting a trap but then I realized that they were stopping so I could cross. You don’t see that in Toronto.”

Right there is the demise of his Vancouver football career. If he has to put his packages under his arm and deke and dive his way through traffic, bouncing off cars and trucks and bicycle couriers, he remains sharp and tough. But now that he begins to appreciate the courteous drivers, he expects opposing linebackers to stop and let and him pass. That’s why the unexpected thump from both sides usually results in a fumble. He has become soft.

Our facilities present another challenge. B.C. Place is more of a manicured greenhouse than a football stadium. Soft green carpet underfoot, a protective dome overhead, controlled climate conditions all year round. Calgary, the team that just eliminated us, played their last three games in howling prairie blizzards on frozen fields, throwing and catching cold footballs that feel like bricks. Our home team practised in shorts and T-shirts.

I don’t know about you, but I think sitting on the bench in a snow storm is not pleasant, and would inspire me to run like heck just to keep warm.

Losing in a fine stadium also limits the excuses for the losing athletes. In the old Empire Stadium days, the field conditions and the weather often played a big role in the outcome of the game. Swirling winds, mud, and driving rain added another dimension that the fleet of foot backs and receivers had to contend with.

We have watched reruns of Grey Cup mud bowls, fog bowls and ice bowls this week. It’s classic Canadian entertainment.

On Sunday, the wind was howling, the rain was blowing sideways and the Empire Stadium field would have been saturated. Our players could have said, “The wind made it hard to throw, the field caused a lot of slipping and falling, the ball was too wet to hold on to.” But unfortunately, the conditions were perfect, leaving only their performance as the measure.

I propose we do away with indoor stadiums and rinks. My Dad told many stories of playing hockey outdoors with one puck all season, and that era spawned the Hulls, the Richards and the Beliveaus. We have to make it much tougher for our West Coast athletes to live here. At least that’s what McGregor says.



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