Lions, Travis Lulay committed to each other, to winning another championship
Star quarterback, 2011 Grey Cup MVP extends contract to end of 2015 CFL season
B.C. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay speaks to reporters after the Canadian Football League team announced he had signed a new contract in Vancouver on Thursday Jan. 17, 2013.
Photograph by: DARRYL DYCK, THE CANADIAN PRESS
VANCOUVER — One was once the most famous face (and he may still be for a while yet) of Vancouver’s NHL franchise. The other is now the face of the B.C. Lions, an athlete admired as much for his community outreach as his playing skills.
This week, Roberto Luongo and Travis Lulay were domiciled under the same roof for a night at the Fairmont Pacific Rim — a five-star waterfront hotel deliberately chosen by Lions president Dennis Skulsky to mark the significance of Lulay’s contract extension.
Luongo strolled through the hotel lobby Thursday morning and out the front door, heading to a Canucks practice and an uncertain future.
Meanwhile two floors above, at a news conference in the Emerald Room (another metaphor, since the gemstone signifies renewal, regrowth and health), Lulay entered from a side door to literally put pen to contract, binding him to the Lions through the 2015 season.
If the quarterback was of a more impish nature, he could have paused, briefly, pen in hand, with Skulsky and GM Wally Buono hovering over him, and placed hand to chin in contemplation. “Let’s see now, do I really want to do this?”
Might have been interesting to watch Skulsky’s and Buono’s expressions.
While hardly signing his life away, in the time it took Lulay to scrawl his John Henry, he was essentially turning his back on an American dream — to play in the National Football League. He’ll turn 30 in September and be 32 by the time he plays out his option, if he doesn’t re-up with the Lions again.
In his introductory speech, Buono said “I still believe the best is yet to come for Travis.” And, indeed, he may well be right. Lulay could become an even more accomplished quarterback than he is now — a two-time West Division all-star, 2011 CFL most outstanding player and Grey Cup most valuable player.
One has to believe it might have been a different scenario, however, if Lulay was 26 or 27, and he was coming off the same superb back-to-back seasons — 59 touchdown passes — as he achieved in 2011 and 2012.
With the emergence of read-option, spread offences in the NFL, the pro game down south is moving ever closer to the offensive-minded Canadian league and the skill set that Lulay possesses.
Seven years ago, when he was signed by the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent from Montana Sate, Lulay was more the variant than the standard. Seattle’s quarterbacks were Matt Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace, and Russell Wilson was in prep school in Virginia.
Wilson, the first rookie to start for the Seahawks since 1993, has above-average arm strength, he’s faster than most NFL players at his position, but the doubts about him were about three inches in length. He was too short to be a starting NFL quarterback, an assumption he blew to smithereens by leading the Hawks to an 11-5 season and within a field goal of the NFC Championship Game.
The number of people who think Lulay could be a successful quarterback in the NFL now might overwhelm those who had their doubts when he came out of college. A shoulder injury in 2007, when the Seahawks assigned him to the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europa, also compromised a proper demonstration of his true abilities.
“No, I don’t feel I missed the boat,” Lulay said. “That’s why I can confidently stand up here and be excited about this. On one hand, the NFL is cool, and that could be great. No question. But to have an organization make a commitment to you, to have an opportunity to be a starter, to have an opportunity to play for a championship every year … those are huge things. To know that I’m surrounded by quality people, from the people in the office to the people in the locker room, I feel really fortunate to be here. That kind of makes all of that other stuff go by the wayside.”
In truth, he may have missed his sweet spot by two or three years, with the NFL embracing Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and their ilk — the type of run-capable quarterbacks the CFL always used to get, because they didn’t fit the NFL definition of what a quarterback should be. (Kaepernick, in fact, was placed on the Lions’ negotiation list two years ago).
Lulay is older and more experienced than them, but he comes from the same scrambling, free-form school of quarterbacking. By extending with the Lions, he saved the football club the big headache of trying to find another one like him.
Nobody is more aware of that than Buono, who sees the style of offences in both leagues converging, rather than diverging — a reason the Chicago Bears hiring of Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman was anything but the “leap of faith” suggested by a Chicago Tribune columnist.
Finding the CFL’s next Travis Lulay might become increasingly more difficult, though, if speed-happy NFL teams are enamoured with the same mobile and elusive quarterbacks who can take snaps and throw on the run.
And so, at the very least, locking up a real Lulay through 2015 will help a lot of people at the Surrey training complex sleep better at night.
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