They say a family can fight amongst itself, but an outsider threatening one member will end up fighting the united whole.
There you have the 1994 BC Lions in a nutshell, a team equal parts dysfunction and destiny.
Two seasons removed from a desultory 3-15 campaign, general manager Eric Tillman and coach Dave Ritchie assembled a galaxy of star players—two starting quarterbacks, perhaps the best CFL defensive secondary ever assembled, a high octane offense, strong O and D lines. There was one problem: the ’94 Lions were riddled with inner turmoil. At one point it took a towel-less Lui Passaglia sprinting from the shower to break up a potential locker room brawl.
An uneven third-place West Division finish (11-6-1 record) behind bitter rivals Edmonton and Calgary meant expectations weren’t high heading into the West semi-final against the heavily-favoured Eskimos.
Sean Millington’s thirty-four yard touchdown run and Less Browne’s major off a blocked punt had BC close, but Edmonton led 23-21 with four minutes remaining, sitting first-and-goal at the Lions’ eight-yard line eager to deliver the knockout blow. With the season hanging in the balance, the magic began. Lions’ defensive back Charlie Gordon intercepted a touchdown-bound pass on the goal line and ran the Leos out of imminent danger. The Lions responded by driving down the field, a last-minute Passaglia field goal giving BC the unlikely 24-23 victory.
On to McMahon Stadium for the Western Final against the mighty Stampeders. By halftime, the offensive shootout was in full flight, Calgary leading 24-20 with Lions’ TDs by Millington and Darren Flutie. Behind 34-21, on came Danny McManus and down came the snow. A Flutie touchdown and a Passaglia field goal cut the lead to 36-31. With 1:34 remaining and Calgary threatening, magic again intervened, the Lions’ Ray Alexander blocking a Stamps’ field goal with a remarkable one-armed leap. McManus then engineered a drive for the ages punctuated by a last-second TD strike to—who else?—Flutie, capping an unforgettable 37-36 win in one of the most dramatic playoff finishes in CFL history.
Home to BC Place, where the 82nd Grey Cup pitted the Lions defending Canada’s honour against Baltimore, the first-ever championship in professional football history to feature a Canada-vs-US match-up. Baltimore carried the play into the third quarter holding a 20-10 lead. As the Lions’ all-Canadian O-line opened massive holes for Millington and Cory Philpot, the McManus-Flutie combo again sparked a BC comeback. Flutie perfectly executed a fake field goal to set up a McManus TD scramble. Two Passaglia field goals and a Tony Collier fumble recovery on the BC one-yard line when Baltimore looked certain to salt it away left the score knotted at 23-23.
It came down to one kick. Hometown boy Passaglia stepped up booting a thirty-eight-yarder with no time remaining to seal the 26-23 victory, the Lions’ third Grey Cup in club history. Sweet ‘Lu’ rode on the shoulders of teammates and fans, while players and coaches cried tears of joy mobbing one another. The delirious 55,000+ in attendance gave one of the longest standing ovations in the city’s history after witnessing one of the unlikeliest playoff runs in BC sport history.
Ray Alexander, Jody Allen (special teams coach), Michael Allen, Zock Allen, Sean Bevan (assistant trainer), Less Browne, Giulio Caravatta, Tyrone Chatman, Dave Chaytors, Denny Chronopoulos, Matt Clarke, Peter Classen (president), Tony Collier, Bill Comrie (owner), Mike Crumb, Dave Easley (linebacker coach), Tommy Europe, Darren Flutie, Brian Forde, Sean Foudy, Todd Furdyk, Gene Gaines (defensive back coach), Charles Gordon, Michael Gray (defensive line coach), Brian Hamilton (assistant equipment manager), Ryan Hanson, Doug Hocking, Gary Hoffman (offensive line coach), Enis Jackson, James Jefferson, Kato Kasuya (equipment manager), Cory Mantyka, Spencer McLennan, Danny McManus, Sean Millington, Yo Murphy, Henry Newby, Creighton O’Malley (equipment manager), Lui Passaglia, John Payne (offensive coordinator), Doug Peterson, Cory Philpot, Bill Quinter (director of player personnel), Bill Reichelt (head trainer), Dave Ritchie (head coach), Virgil Robertson, Glen Scrivener, Kelly Sims, Ian Sinclair, Rob Smith, Angelo Snipes, Vic Stevenson, Andrew Stewart, Jamie Taras, Eric Tillman (general manager), Mike Trevathan, Kent Warnock, Ricardo Washington, Barry Wilburn, Donovan Wright
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.