BC Lions’ quarterback Vernon Adams (8), Bryan Burnham (16) and Alexander Hollins (13) comfort eachother after losing to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL western final in Winnipeg, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

BC Lions’ quarterback Vernon Adams (8), Bryan Burnham (16) and Alexander Hollins (13) comfort eachother after losing to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL western final in Winnipeg, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

THE MOJ: Pretty safe bet the B.C. Lions will be expecting more than 5 1/2 wins next year

Checking their egos at the door made for a surprising and satisfying year in B.C. Place

5 ½.

That’s the number that most Vegas sports books had in terms of the B.C. Lions over/under win total at the start of the 2022 season.

Not too many people thought the Lions were going to do something special this year.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the Lions.

The Lions wound up going 12-6, won a home playoff game against Calgary and then battled Winnipeg until the bitter end before losing 28-20 to the Bombers in the Western Final this past Sunday.

The emotional scene at the end of the game in Winnipeg in which receiver Bryan Burnham and quarterback Nathan Rourke tried to console one another as they watched the Bombers celebrate their victory spoke volumes of what this group had built this year and how it had attained success.

On the flight home from Manitoba, outgoing Lions President Rick LeLacheur told me that this was the best locker room he had ever been around during his time as an executive in the CFL – which spans over 25 years.

All the players on this team checked their egos at the door.

It wasn’t about individual success – it was about team success. This was a team that invested not only in themselves but in one another. It was a common occurrence to walk into a restaurant on the road and see a position group such as the receivers or the offensive line having dinner together. This group was tight. This group was family. The emotion you saw between Rourke and Burnham was an indicator of that.

It was also an indicator that it was the end for this specific group of players. There won’t be significant turnover of the roster but there will be players who have played their last game in a Lions uniform.

Burnham might have even announced his retirement by the time you read this.

Between his emotion at the end of the game in Winnipeg in which he exchanged jerseys with Bombers defensive lineman Willie Jefferson and what he told Karen Surman moments after the Calgary win, it’s a pretty good indication that Burnham will call it a day.

“I’ve been in this game a long time. There is no telling what next year brings. I went out and played this game as if it was my last,” Burnham told the sideline reporter for our Lions broadcasts.

Given Burnham’s well-documented efforts to start a family in recent years and the struggles he has gone through to do so, it’s understandable that he will prioritize that part of his life. After eight seasons in B.C., he will step away as one of the greatest Lions of all time, having been a four-time CFL All-Star.

The loss of Burnham will be a hit but if there is one position where the Lions have depth it’s receiver. Given the emergence of Keon Hatcher and Alexander Hollins and others waiting in the wings such as Josh Pearson and Jamarius Way, the Lions do have suitable replacements.

Others will move on as well.

Delvin Breaux announced his retirement a day after the final game while there are several big-name free agents such as Gary Peters, T.J. Lee, Bo Lokombo and basically the entire offensive line but the biggest piece of the puzzle is Rourke and what he decides to do next year.

B.C. is building something special but a lot of the Lions future success depends on what happens with the emerging 24-year-old star. Does he choose to try his luck in the NFL or sign a lucrative deal with the organization rumored to be in the $500,000 per year range?

My gut feeling is that he signs with the Lions.

Rourke could certainly sign with an NFL team but the big question is whether or not he will get an opportunity with an NFL team. Given his body of work in the CFL, I don’t think that opportunity will present itself.

Keeping Rourke would also benefit the team in luring any potential free agents. With Rourke, this team is close and becomes a destination for any player looking for a shot at a championship. The Lions will have to find some money to sign the face of the franchise but Burnham’s departure will help in that regard.

There are some variables heading into the off-season but one thing is for certain.

When the Lions start the 2023 campaign, the over/under on the win total won’t be 5 ½.

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.

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