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How Arland Bruce helped elevate the Lions

B.C. Lions receiver Arland Bruce has helped elevate the play of his team since being acquired from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last August.. REUTERS/Ben Nelms

Ben Nelms/Reuters

Look, we all know that history suggests Arland Bruce III isn't going to be back with the B.C. Lions next season regardless of the outcome of Sunday's Grey Cup. That even if he starts the year with them, he'll be gone at some point.

The CFL is all about big, physical receivers these days. Check out the Montreal Alouettes, Calgary Stampeders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. You want to play small in this league? You'd better burn.

Beyond that, there is the reality of the CFL or any other game as espoused Thursday by Lions head coach Wally Buono, who says he told his players at one point this season that his job description involves replacing them with younger, cheaper and – knock on wood – better players. That might have been when the team was 0-5, at which point the Lions acquired Bruce from the Tiger-Cats for a pair of draft picks with an eye toward, in Buono's words "helping us win now." As in the next week. And the week after.

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Bruce had 49 receptions for 755 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games with the Lions and aside from a parking infraction and resulting "verbal altercation" that somehow warranted an official press release last week, the only combustibility he contributed was helping blow up the pallor of a slow start.

"He wasn't part of the 0-5 start, so when he came here he didn't feel like an 0-5 player, if you get what I mean," Buono said. "His personality helped elevate guys."

In some ways, he also contributed to the development of quarterback Travis Lulay, who probably doesn't even realize how much the suddenly quarterback bereft and star-shy CFL has invested in him.

Forget the explosive block Bruce threw on Edmonton Eskimos defensive back Donovan Alexander in the West final to spring Lulay on a 61-yard touchdown run. More telling was that when Lulay was asked for a signature play this season that showed he thought he'd taken his game to that special subtle level of outstanding quarterbacks, he pulled out a pass in the final that set up an Andrew Harris touchdown run.

"It was one of those back-side passes … one that I'd never thrown in practice, that you just don't throw in practice … and when I came to the sideline, the other quarterbacks asked 'What made you look over there?' I said: 'Wow, I don't know. I just kind of felt it, I guess.'" The receiver? Bruce.

That is telling. This is very much Geroy Simon's team, of course, but Bruce has become more of a talisman than the lightning rod many suspected when he responded to his trade to the Lions with a tweet that said he was "closer to the Grey Cup now."

The, um, sincerity of some of Bruce's eccentricities – such as calling himself Runako Reth, in what he says is a nod to his African-American heritage – has long been questioned, but as Buono said: "If you shy away from every guy who has an issue … the truth is, most of these guys wouldn't be here."

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"I mean, I don't care what he calls himself," Buono said, eyes lighting up. "I just want to know it's Arland Bruce who shows up for 4 ½ hours on game day. Here's what I ask: 'Be on time. Know what you're supposed to do. Play hard. Can you figure that out? Than we don't have a problem.'"

Bruce has been his ebullient self this week, prattling on about his off-field music business and even telling a group of doughy sportswriters that he'd help them cut a rap CD "if you can handle criticism."

He claims that knowing he was coming to a team coached by Buono convinced him all was going to be right on that August day.

"It was a different focus for me," he said in all apparent honesty. This was no deal with the devil on the part of the Lions. Rather, it was a move with massive short-term gain, and the usual long-term risk that seems manageable when you're on the eve of the Grey Cup game.

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