As a rookie, Passaglia beat out five other kickers—including future Detroit Lions All-Pro Eddie Murray—for the job, then hit only 28 of 49 field goals while averaging 41.4 yards per punt. "I remember my first exhibition game," he says. "The coach says, 'Oh, by the way, you're gonna do field goals, kickoffs and punt. Go get 'em!' "
Through the years, Passaglia has experienced highs and lows and all possible in-betweens. Many times, a new BC coach has brought in a young thoroughbred to challenge Passaglia for either his punting or kicking job, only to have the old horse retain both gigs. The greatest moment of his career came in 1994, when Passaglia kicked the game-winning 38-yard field goal against Baltimore for the Grey Cup championship. It was the first time a U.S. team had faced a Canadian team for the CFL title. The team from Baltimore (now the Montreal Alouettes) had all American players. "We were a mixed bag of Canadians and Americans," says Passaglia. "We were huge underdogs—a 9-9 team with no business being there. The people of Canada wanted it so badly."
Passaglia, running his right hand through his hair—there are gray specks along the sideburns—says this with a certain oomph. Above all, he is a Canadian. When he announced his retirement on Sept. 11, he did so with the good of the game in mind. Although the 5-8 Lions are in the heat of a playoff chase (six of the CFL's eight teams make the postseason), attendance at 40,800-seat BC Place, the stadium the Lions moved to in 1983, is averaging only 22,044 per game. On the streets of Vancouver it's easier to find youngsters in St. Louis Rams or Seattle Seahawks shirts than in BC Lions garb. "I was thinking that, maybe, if I announce my retirement during the season, some more people would come out," Passaglia says. "I'd like to see more people interested in a great game."
Since his rookie year, Passaglia—like many players in a league in which the average salary in 1999 was $43,700—has regularly held other jobs during both the season and the off-season. He's worked as a teacher, in his family's contracting business and for an insurance firm handling partner relations and event marketing. It's not uncommon to see Passaglia, who is married and has four children aged 20 to 14, casually strolling through downtown. He is, after all, a man of the people. A man of Vancouver. "Hopefully," he says, "they'll still remember me when I'm done."
The greatest of Canadian kickers smiles, knowing the truth of it all. Over the past 26 years there have been hundreds of BC Lions. There has only been one Lui Passaglia.