by Mike BeamishSpecial to the Langley Advance
After he shuffled off into the sunset, wincing a little, bone-weary, Lui Passaglia believed he’d fully emptied the tank.
After putting the cap on an unprecedented 25-year career in the Canadian Football League, the veteran kicker of the B.C. Lions had no more to give. The league’s all-time leading scorer was 46 when he finally entered into retirement.
“I had nothing left,” Passaglia said Tuesday. “I would love to have played until I turned 50. It was still in the blood. After 25 years of kicking a football, I don’t think I could have gone on for another year. The hamstrings, the knee and the groin, I knew I’d overworked them for so long. I was done.“
Passaglia ended his fabled career in 2000, kicking the winning points for the Lions’ fourth Grey Cup title, a 28-26 win against the Montreal Alouettes.
At 46, it’s left to see if Langley’s Paul McCallum, the CFL’s second all-time leading scorer, and Passaglia’s former understudy, can go out on a similar high note.
To better their prospects of making it to the 104th Grey Cup game in Toronto, the Lions have asked the realtor to take a pause from hammering lawn signs and try hammering a few field goals as the Lions go forth in quest of their seventh Cup.
With premier punter and second-year kicker Richie Leone struggling ballistically through the uprights – Leone missed a pair of field goal attempts and two converts in last Saturday’s 24-6 win over Saskatchewan – McCallum rejoined the Lions Tuesday on a stopgap basis.
More than a year ago, McCallum was persona non grata after just the first week of training camp, when it became apparent coach Jeff Tedford and GM Wally Buono regarded Leone and his backup, Anthony Fera, as the wave of the future. Indignant, the prideful McCallum packed his bags and drove home.
After being picked up by the Saskatchewan Roughriders on the rebound, McCallum signed a ceremonial one-day contract with the Lions in March of this year, a signal that he had buried the hatchet with his former club. His desire was to retire officially as a Lion, the team with which he spent nine of his 23 seasons.
“I can still kick, but I don’t have the same drive and determination to do it,” McCallum said at the time.
However, when Passaglia, a cancer survivor, and McCallum played golf together at a charity event in Kelowna this summer, Passaglia got the impression then that football wasn’t totally out of his system.
“I asked Paul, in July, if he can still kick, and he told me, ‘Damn straight,’” Passaglia said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he could walk right into a game, in a pressure situation, and be as good as he was. Instantaneous. If anybody could do it, it would be Paul. I wish him well.“
“I never called any teams and said, if anybody gets hurt, I’m available,” McCallum said Tuesday. “I wasn’t interested in doing any of that. This
is a short stint – four games at the most. If I can help them out, I’m here. I think they’ll take a look at what I’m doing in pre-game (warmups) and go from there. If we need a long field goal, they’ll still put him (Leone) in there.”
The idea – and plans can change – is to dress both Leone and McCallum, with the younger man pulling back his duties to concentrate on punting and kickoffs.
Next game Saturday Saskatchewan Roughriders at B.C. Lions 4 p.m., B.C. Place Stadium TSN, TSN 1040 AM
McCallum would handle field goals, except for the prayer shot variety. Leone’s career-best is 56 yards. McCallum holds the CFL record for the longest field goal – 62 yards – but that came 15 years ago, when he played for the Roughriders.
“If we need a 60-yard field goal, I’ll be ready,” Leone said. “I was told about this yesterday (Monday). Then, Paul phoned me to talk it over. I think it’s a great deal. The competitor in me always want to be The Guy, but I don’t want to stand in the way of us winning a Grey Cup. We’re very lucky he’s just down the street and available.“
Long snapper Mike Benson and holder Travis Lulay figure the transition should work seamlessly for McCallum. Benson has worked with McCallum before. Lulay was McCallum’s holder in 2009 and 2010.
“It takes 50,000 pairs of eyes off Richie,” Benson said. “He can get his rhythm back with less pressure on his shoulders. I think it’s a great thing. He can focus on what he’s best at.“
“There’s no difference between how Richie and Paul like the tilt of the football,” Lulay said. “Richie’s essentially had three roles – in two of them he’s been very above average. Even with Paul here, Richie still has to embrace the idea of being a kicker. His head needs to be mentally into it. He gives us that long-distance option – and you just don’t know how this whole thing plays out.“
History notes that the last time the Lions had a 46-year-old kicker, it worked out very well indeed.
– Mike Beamish is a sports commentator with The Province • Click here to read more stories from The Province