Finding a niche

As he achieves yet another honour in his career, Lui Passaglia is still in awe of what he accomplished and what others think of it.

Passaglia played his entire 25-year career in the Canadian Football League with the B.C. Lions and set a host of records, including career points scoring. His achievements have earned him a place in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame and now the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. He will be formally inducted Tuesday night in Calgary.

“There’s athletes and builders and teams from all kinds of sports, so you never think about the opportunity or even the consideration of maybe one day being in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, but when I got the call – while driving illegally with my cellphone on – it was a wow factor (thinking) this is really neat,” Passaglia told sportsnet.ca. “Being a sports fan all my life, being inducted with all the past athletes and the builders and the current ones, it’s certainly an honour.

“As far as my activities over 25 years as a kicker and a punter, you look at your average of on-field production, a punter and kicker probably gets on the field for 10 plays a game – six seconds of play, one minute a game,” he added. “So in reality how many true 60-minute games have I been on the field? I think in total it’s five, six or seven. I always said to my friends, in my job I got to participate in professional sports as a kicker and a punter and I got hit minimally, so my career was longer, and in the money-per-minute ratio I think I was the highest-paid football player on the team for all those 25 years.

“When the body of work is looked at by the selection committee and they deem it’s worthwhile to be inducted into the Hall of Fame … I respect all the other athletes and what they do. I felt I did a pretty good job in what I had to do.”

Passaglia, like many people following the CFL, is pleasantly surprised by the accomplishments of current B.C. Lions punter/place kicker, Paul McCallum, who set a record this year by completing 94.3 per cent of his field goals. At age 41, McCallum had the best regular season of his career, setting a league mark and a variety of personal ones. In Passaglia’s final season and at the age of 45, he recorded a personal-best 90.9 per cent success on his field-goal tries.

“I think in the last couple of years and especially since he’s been with the Lions full time (beginning in 2006), he’s found his niche as far as how he’s kicking the ball and how he’s punting the ball,” Passaglia said. “It’s almost like he’s in that space where both physically and mentally he knows he can go out there and produce at any time at a high level and he’s got no concerns. He’s kicking better this year than when he was in his 20s.”

McCallum had a brief period earlier in his career when he was trying to unseat Passaglia in B.C. and filled in for him temporarily because of an injury in 1994.

“Kudos to him because I know when he was working under me and trying to beat me out, he always worked and he had the confidence that one day he’d be one of the elite kickers,” Passaglia said. “He had some trying times along the way, but he stuck it through, worked hard and now he’s a consummate kicker and the kicker in the CFL.

“He was going to take my job (in ’94). I was turning 40. I was kicking pretty good in those days and I was fortunate enough that the coaches wanted to stick with the veteran.”

It was a situation not unlike this year when the Lions traded McCallum’s heir apparent, Sean Whyte, to Montreal in the off-season, placing their faith in the veteran.

“I was fortunate enough at an older age to be consistent and (McCallum’s) in the same boat now and, in essence, the understudy (Whyte) has now left and it all depends on how well (McCallum) keeps kicking from here on in. He could be kicking there for a while, too, at an older age.”

Passaglia said in his final year he was similar to the “zone” that McCallum is probably in now, explaining his career-best field-goal percentage success.

“It was just one of those years where you felt you couldn’t do anything wrong, and I know talking to Paul now he has that mindset of ‘put me out there from anywhere and I can do it.'”

Passaglia pointed to McCallum’s 53-yard game-winning field goal on the final play of a game against Calgary in October as proof of that.

“It’s strange that there’s a lot of kickers and punters that have gone through the CFL and NFL and only a few have lasted into their 40s and had consistent years. I think you have to look at the passion that a person brings to work and the belief in himself that age is no factor.”

Perry Lefko keeps you connected to all the news in the CFL on Sportsnet.ca.

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