Can Lions maintain historic defensive dominance?

Forty-nine years. That's the length of time since a CFL team last allowed 10 or less points in three consecutive outings, an achievement B.C. unlocked with last week's 24-5 thumping of Saskatchewan (where two of the Riders' points came from a conceded safety, no less), and something head coach Mike Benevides, defensive coordinator Rich Stubler and therest of the Lions' defensive staff can take great pride in. It says a lot about the magnitude of this accomplishment when no one's been able to do it since 1963. Now, the key question is B.C. will be able to smash that record with a fourth-straight dominant performance against Winnipeg Friday (8 p.m. Eastern, TSN), or if Joey Elliott and the Bombers will break the Lions' streak.

It's worth considering just how much the league's changed since 1963 when B.C.'s famed "Headhunters" group recorded those three straight games with less than 10 points against. For one thing, Lions' kicker Paul McCallum, the CFL's oldest current player at 42, wasn't even born then. That was only shortly after the official formation of the CFL in 1958, which resulted from the Canadian Football Council's separation from the amateur-focused Canadian Rugby Union (which became Football Canada). Stars of the time included B.C. quarterback Joe Kapp (who went on to NFL and then cane-swinging fame), Hamilton defensive tackle Angelo Mosca (who notoriously hit B.C. running back Willie Fleming in that Grey Cup, prompting the events that would lead to the cane-swinging brawl 48 years later), Toronto running back Dick Shatto and Ottawa quarterback Russ Jackson. The 1963 Lions' defence had plenty of famed players of its own, including league all-stars LB Norm Fieldgate, DE Dick Fouts and LB Tom Brown, and it brought the heat; that team allowed just 14.5 points per game, well below B.C.'s league-best 17.7 points against per contest this year.

However, that was a different era. The Lions' 14.5 points against per game mark was certainly impressive, and their dominant defence played a critical role in their 12-4 regular season campaign (first in the West) and their run to the Grey Cup game (where they lost to Hamilton), but there wasn't anywhere near as much scoring in those days. In fact, Saskatchewan had a better points-per-game average allowed during the season (14.1), and Hamilton wasn't far behind with 15.3 points against per contest. That's not to detract from what the 1963 group did, as it certainly stood out; the CFL game didn't radically increase in offence until substantially later and there were plenty of other dominant defensive units, but no one managed to record three games in a row with less than 10 points allowed until now. Still, putting up three straight performances like this in today's era of high-flying offences is even more remarkable.

Can B.C. keep it up? Well, holding opponents to less than 10 points is a very tricky thing, and even despite managing it three times in a row, the Lions' average of 17.7 points against on the season is still far closer to 20 than it is to 10. Moreover, Winnipeg's coming off a 32-point showing in last week's win over Hamilton, and one where new quarterback Joey Elliott threw for over 400 yards; that could pose problems for the B.C. defence. Still, the modern-day Lions have displayed dominance in all aspects of defence recently, getting incredible performances from their defensive line (even without Khalif Mitchell), their linebackers and their all-star secondary, and Winnipeg's victory last week required some help; the Bombers are also last in the league with a 2-5 record, and they've scored a league-low 159 points (22.7 per game). If B.C.'s defence even looks close to the 1963 group or the group that's dominated the CFL recently, Winnipeg's offence might be in for a painful outing Friday night.