Travis Lulay’s ship safely secure in Lions’ harbour
Star quarterback goes all-in, will be B.C.’s marquee player through 2015
B.C. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay holds his three-month-old daughter Parker after a news conference where 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 — You know that queasy feeling you get when you’ve spent four years developing a quarterback, cut your former league Most Outstanding Player to give him a shot as starter, watched him blossom into an MOP himself, and then had to sit through weeks of worry that the National Football League was going to come along and pick your pocket?
That “who signed this stupid Little Brother agreement with the NFL, anyway?” feeling, when the future of your franchise is in danger of being pirated by the spendthrift, strip-mining speculators from the other side of the border, and you can do nothing about it?
That helpless feeling you have when your club’s only “option” in the player’s option year is to curl up in the fetal position and hope the bear leaves you alone?
Well, Wally Buono said he never had any of those feelings while Travis Lulay was weighing offers before signing a two-year contract extension Thursday, at a reported $450,000 per season, to remain a B.C. Lion through the 2015 campaign.
And Lulay? How close did the 29-year-old redhead, who may be the best thing to happen to the Lions franchise since Buono himself arrived from Calgary in 2003, come to dashing the immediate hopes of the CFL’s No. 1 team of the last two seasons (we’ll just skip over the 2012 Western final)?
Not very, it seems. Unlike so many who have used a big season or two in Canada as a springboard to a signing bonus and ultimate disappointment in the NFL, Lulay looked before he leapt, weighed the optimum scenario against the likelier one, and stayed put.
“Had I gone? Well, the best story obviously is a guy like [former Calgary Stampeder QB] Jeff Garcia — you know, takes a chance, goes down there, becomes a Pro Bowler, has a great career,” Lulay said Thursday when the Lions gave his signing the full production at the Fairmont Pacific Rim.
“But for every story like that, there’s a ton of stories that go the other way, where a guy maybe doesn’t get the opportunity, a Dave Dickenson type of guy, goes down there for a couple of years …” and holds a clipboard.
“You never know. There’s a ton of uncertainty, and I think at one point [in the past] the thought process would have been different. Maybe a little bit of opportunity back then would have meant more than it would now. But I wanted to be in a situation where I could confidently make a decision, one way or another, and I feel like I found that spot.
“If I were to be here for the rest of my career, I’d be a happy guy.”
He’s not that 22-year-old kid coming out of college any more. He’s going on 30, and that’s kind of, um, mature to be starting over in a new league without a safety net, even if he’s a young 29, with a lot of semi-idle years in which his body wasn’t accumulating hard mileage.
And suddenly, he’s not making the call for himself only. He’s got a wife, Kim, and a three-month-old daughter, Parker. And at $450,000 a year, roughly 10 per cent of the Lions’ salary cap, he knows the club he’s signing with is going all-in, banking on everything they know about his character and his leadership and his skills.
“Obviously the commitment to us was something he had to think long and hard about,” Buono said, “because this is where he is going to be spending, probably, the rest of his football career.
“I still really believe the best is yet to come, because I think when a person’s mind is settled, you get the best out of him. I’ve always believed that when you burn the ship, you are committed. If you always have the ship in the harbour ...”
Lulay isn’t so sure he’s signing away the rest of his life by agreeing to a two-year extension — “How old will I be then, 32? That’s not too old,” he grinned — but on the main point, he’s in agreement with Buono.
His goals, and the Lions’ are perfectly aligned. They think championship every year, and so does he. And he believes the pieces are here.
“Four years ago, coming in, not knowing if I was on my last legs as a pro ... if I didn’t make that team in training camp, I probably would have hung ’em up. I’m forever grateful to Wally and the organization for giving me that opportunity. I believed I could play all along, I just ...somebody needed to agree with me.
“So this is a really special moment, and all I can do is do what’s worked for me in the past, which is work my tail off and care about the people around me and try to give us a chance to win.”
Head coach Mike Benevides said he felt good about the Lions’ odds of retaining Lulay.
“I knew he’d be diligent, and that it would be well-thought out, and I also knew that his moral compass, and what he wants out of this, matches a lot of things that we are,” he said.
“You know, Wally talked about going out in the snow the other day and seeing Travis out there throwing a truck tire around, when he knows he’s probably got the biggest contract in this league in his back pocket. In 2009, he was a nobody with us, and one night I’m in the building late and figure I’m the last one there and I see a light on in one of the rooms and I go to turn it off because I think someone’s left a projector on, and Travis is there watching film. Nobody asked him to. Practice has been over for 5-6 hours and he’s still there.
“People throw around words like character and integrity and work ethic, but this guy — that’s exactly what he’s about.”
If Lulay had accepted an NFL offer, Buono says, he’d have lived with it.
“It’s always a time of uncertainty, but I feel good about the fact that he’s weighed everything, and he feels we’re his best option,” said the GM and vice-president of football operations.
“My personal opinion: I’m OK with the NFL thing, and here’s why. All of us — if there’s higher aspirations, and with that usually comes higher remuneration — if we have the ability to access that, would we not do it?
“My only thing is, once that opportunity is over with that team, it’s over. If the Seahawks wanted to sign Travis, and at the end of September they cut him, he should revert back to his (CFL) contract, period, so we have none of this bouncing around from practice roster to practice roster.
“If you think he’s worth it and you sign him to a contract and he can’t meet your expectation, then he reverts back to the team that has invested in him.”
If spending one-tenth of the player budget on one guy seems extravagant, Buono said, try winning without a quality quarterback. If Lulay isn’t the best in the league, he’s inches away from it.
“When a player is 100 per cent committed, when a person gives up free agency to commit to you, there’s going to be a cost,” said the boss.
“We’re willing to pay the cost.”
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun