Sometimes Wally Buono’s eyes can burn holes through a player after they make a mistake.
On the days his young grandson shows up to practices, his eyes sparkle with joy. Those same eyes that have watched thousands of football plays over the years were filled with tears Saturday night after the B.C. Lions’ 23-17 victory over the Toronto Argonauts made Buono the CFL’s all-time winning coach.
An emotional Buono talked about his mother, who is battling Alzheimer’s disease in Montreal, his deep religious beliefs, and Don Matthews, his long-time friend who previously held the record.
“There is a lot of things about this that is important to me,” said Buono, the Lions coach and general manager, who collected his 232nd victory in a 19-year career with B.C. and Calgary. “You have to look at who you are.
“I have been very fortunate in my life. My mother has always sacrificed for us. Right now she is not doing well. Then you go through all the people that have helped you. This is not something that one individual can accomplish.”
Matthews was among the crowd of 27,515 at B.C. Place for the game.
“I think about Don and what he’s done for the CFL,” said Buono, 59. “He’s always been able to take a stand, never been afraid to stand up for the lesser coach.
“We have a friendship, a mutual respect. Don has won a lot of games. We understand the pressure of winning. A lot of people think it’s easy. Every game is tough. That is one of the things I think we respect about each other.”
An aggressive Lions defence had six sacks, three by defensive end Ricky Foley, and Corey Banks snagged two interceptions as the Lions improved their record to 5-6 and moved into a tie for third place in the West with the Edmonton Eskimos.
Toronto dropped to 3-8.
Quarterback Buck Pierce, playing for the first time since suffering a concussion a month ago, completed 20-of-28 passes for 171 yards and no interceptions.
More importantly, Pierce showed his toughness by shaking off some bruising hits.
“Everybody was thinking I was going to get hit out there and crumble,” said Pierce, who has suffered five concussion in the last 11 months. “That’s not me.
“I played smart. It was good to go out there and prove it to yourself, just to play and have fun.”
A 54-yard punt return by Ryan Grice-Mullen set up Sean Whyte’s go-ahead, 32-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Running back Martell Mallett scored on a one-yard run for the Lions, a touchdown set up by one of Banks’ interceptions. Whyte kicked five field goals.
Toronto’s Jordan Younger ran 18 yards for a touchdown on a blocked punt while running back Jamal Robertson scored on a one-yard run.
Toronto quarterback Cody Pickett had his moments but had trouble finding open receivers and spent a lot of time trying to run away from the Lions’ pressure.
“If I don’t turn the ball over twice, who knows, maybe it’s a different game,” said Pickett, who competed 11-of-23 passes for 166 yards.
The Argos most effective weapon was Robertson, who had 86 yards on 18 carries.
Toronto had a 17-14 lead early in the third quarter, but Pierce mounted three drives for field goals.
“We still need to learn to protect a lead,” said Toronto coach Bart Andrus. “We need to keep scoring once we do get the lead.”
The Argos are 1-10 in their last 11 games against B.C.
Toronto’s last win against the Lions was Oct. 11, 2004, at Rogers Centre. The Argonauts last win at B.C. Place Stadium was in 2002.
Whyte also was good on field goals of 41, 33, 32 and 15 yards. He boomed a career-high 68-yard punt for a single.
Justin Medlock kicked a 44-yard field goal for Toronto.
In the days leading up to the game Buono was reluctant to talk about the record. He preferred to focus on the game against Toronto and the Lions’ battle for a playoff spot.
After the win, Buono was greeted by friends and family outside the Lions dressing room. There were hugs, kisses and handshakes.
Pierce, who was playing because of a shoulder injury to quarterback Jarious Jackson, said it was a special to be part of the moment.
“That’s a milestone he will have for the rest of his life,” said Pierce. “To be part of that is something big.
“You can’t say enough about the guy. That’s an amazing record. Nobody deserves it more than he does. Just to be part of that is pretty humbling. He is a legend. To play for a guy like that is great.”
During his career Buono has coached in seven Grey Cup games and won four. He has missed the playoffs just once as a coach.
Typically, Buono was more interested in looking forward than spending too much time talking about the past.
“One day somebody will be standing here, talking about the record that was passed onto him,” he said.
“It’s been a tremendous ride. I don’t think I’m finished yet.”