It Was a B.C. Year
Early in his career Lui Passaglia, the placekicker and punter for the British Columbia Lions, used to invite his mother, Natalina, now 66, to come along with him to a park in Port Coquitlam, B.C., explaining that while she was a terrific cook, she needed more fresh air and exercise. The workout wasn't too strenuous, but his mother did risk ending up with a case of holder's knees. Natalina had to bend down and steady the football, a maternal Lucy to her son's Charlie Brown.
"Gira la palla," Lui would say, and Natalina would dutifully turn the football so that the laces faced the goalposts.
"I was afraid he was going to kick my finger," recalled Natalina outside the bedlam of the Lions' dressing room on Sunday. "But he never did. He was a good boy."
Lui still is a good boy, even at the advanced age of 40. In the 82nd Grey Cup, his 37-yard field goal attempt with 1:13 to go was wide right, but he didn't sulk. Given a second chance, again from the left hash mark but this time one yard farther back as the clock wound down to 0:00, he buried the kick through the uprights at B.C. Place Stadium for a 26-23 Lion victory.
This championship game was supposed to mark the beginning of a new era in the CFL, because the Eastern Division representative was the expansion team from Baltimore, the first U.S. team ever to make the final and a club without a single Canadian on its roster. Instead the game turned on the gnarled foot of the oldest player in the league, whose four field goals kept the Grey Cup in Canada.
Passaglia, who has been with the Lions for 19 years, is the alltime leading scorer in pro football history. With 2,966 points he is well beyond the 2,002 accumulated by the NFL record holder, George Blanda, who played for four different teams over 26 seasons. Passaglia has missed only one of 794 extra point attempts. He also has punted for 104,184 yards, or 59.2 miles.
Passaglia tried to earn a spot on the Cleveland Browns' roster in 1988 but washed out and returned to Vancouver, which meant he also returned to off-season jobs as a substitute teacher, an insurance consultant and a contractor. Even though the CFL field is 110 yards long and wide enough to put an airport runway between the sidelines, the Canadian game offers football on a more modest scale, including a $2.5 million (Canadian) salary cap for each team. Passaglia, who earned $64,000 this season, has worked in all but three of his 18 off-seasons, although his $12,000 winner's share for the Grey Cup might keep him off construction sites this winter.
"After I made the kick, I started hyperventilating," said Passaglia. "I thought I was having a heart attack. You want the winning kick whether it's Pop Warner or high school or whatever, but doing it in the Grey Cup, that's Number 1."
That view is not shared by many, even in Canada. During the week leading up to the title game, Prime Minister Jean Chr�tien said that while he hoped B.C. would win, he prefers watching the NFL on Sundays. In a country where the populace sometimes takes a jaundiced view of its rollicking game—the Hamilton Tiger-Cats may fold this winter, and the Calgary Stampeders, led by former Boston College hero Doug Flutie, are pondering a move to San Antonio—Chr�tien is hardly alone.