Wally Buono has two season seats for Lions games in the lower bowl at B.C. Place Stadium. Somewhere.
“I’ve never sat in them. I can’t tell you where they’re at,” he said Tuesday.
The Hall of Famer will be sitting in one of those seats for the first time ever on Sept. 29 when the Lions host the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He’ll be there in his role as the grand prize of a Make-A-Wish fundraiser organized by his daughter Christie, who is the Make-A-Wish Canada chapter director for B.C. and Yukon.
Bids on the big prize, a.k.a. Buono, are open until Sept. 24 at makeawish.ca/wally. The winning bidder will receive two tickets for seats next to Wally and Christie, somewhere in the lower bowl, two Lions jerseys signed by Wally and two pre-game sideline passes.
“So we’re going to stand on the sidelines like a bunch of groupies and gawk at the players and see the warm-up,” laughed Buono. “When the players go in, we’re going to the hot dog stand to get a hot dog or two before the game.”
“Well, I don’t know what they drink, OK. Christie and I will take care of whatever they want.”
If they want to know why the Saskatchewan quarterback threw an interception, Buono will tell them. If they want to know why the Canadian Football League insists on awarding a single point for a missed field goal attempt that sails through the end zone, Buono will tell them. It’s the chance of a lifetime for any football fan, and an odd pleasure for Buono, who has never sat in the seats for any CFL game, ever. When he watches the Lions these days, he’s in a suite. When he scouted CFL games back in the day, he sat in the press box.
Buono was head coach for almost 500 CFL games and his teams won 282 of them. He also played in 156 with Montreal in the 1970s and early ‘80s. He’s forgotten more about the CFL than every coach currently in the league put together. And he’s happy to pass along the institutional knowledge, whenever he’s asked.
“I’m walking my daughter’s dog the other day in White Rock and this fellow comes up. He says you’re Wally Buono. I said yes I am. So we got talking and then he says I gotta get going because I want to put a bet on the Saskatchewan/Winnipeg game.
“He says who do you think I should take? I said you should take Saskatchewan. He said Saskatchewan? I said yeah, Saskatchewan has got a good defensive front, they’re playing in Saskatchewan, so they’re going to have the snap count advantage over Winnipeg’s offensive line and it’s going to make a big difference in the game.
“Who won that game? Saskatchewan. Why? I believe because the crowd makes a huge difference in communication, the snap count and in the emotional part too. A lot of people don’t understand the value of home field, especially with a big crowd.”
There should be a big crowd on hand for the Lions and Riders, given the potential for playoff implications.
“Saskatchewan needs to get their act together because the playoffs are just around the corner and B.C. has got a great football team,” said Buono. “I know it’s going to be a great game.”
And if the refs are messing it up, will he yell at them?
“No. I used to yell at the refs so the players knew I cared. And to let people know I was doing my job,” he chuckled.
If the tables were turned and Buono had the choice of seatmate for a game somewhere down the road, he’d go with The Rock, a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson. Before Johnson assumed his alternate persona as a pro wrestler and movie star, he attended a Calgary Stampeders training camp and was cut by Buono, who was then head coach. Johnson often brings it up as a seminal moment in his life.
“I would love to sit with the Rock to get his impression of why a player being cut by a CFL coach was the greatest thing that happened to him,” laughed Buono. “I appreciate all the kind things he says about us and the CFL and all that. God bless him, he’s given the CFL more PR than anything. And a couple months ago I saw him donate $100,000 to Make-A-Wish in the U.S. That shows where his heart is at.”