HAMILTON — In 2011, his first full season as the B.C. Lions’ starting quarterback, Travis Lulay led his team to a Grey Cup victory while being named the CFL’s most outstanding player.
The next season, he had an even better year statistically before the Lions lost the West Division Final. He was back in 2013, returning from an injury and playing his heart out in a crushing 29-25 loss to the Roughriders in Regina in the West semifinal.
That game also marked his last start in the playoffs.
“Thanks for reminding me,” Lulay said Friday.
But this is also what he reminds his teammates.
Lulay’s career, which seemed destined for the Hall of Fame, has been broken by a series of cataclysmic injuries. There have been two major surgeries, one immediately after that playoff game in 2013.
There have been two other injuries that knocked him out for significant portions of his season. But this year, he and his teammates have been presented with an opportunity to win a championship, an opportunity they must cherish.
You hear it everywhere this time of year, the veteran trying to impress on younger players that they have to seize this moment because they’ll never know what tomorrow brings. You hear it so often, in fact, it has the empty sound of a cliché.
But when Lulay talks about his story, it carries meaning.
The Lions might not win Sunday’s crossover playoff game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and there are 100 different variables that will decide that contest. But it won’t be lost because they’re taking it for granted.
“Talking to younger players, you don’t know when or how often you’re going to get this opportunity,” Lulay said. “You just never know in this game. You can get hurt or you miss the playoffs or you get traded or whatever happens.
“But we’re here right now and that’s all that matters. I mean, we’re guaranteed one more game as this group. That’s all we’re guaranteed.
“There is a finality to that and there’s a chance to leave a mark. And you do that by making a special run.”
Friday, the Lions held a brief practice at McMaster University and if you didn’t know it was the CFL playoffs by the calendar, you knew if by the weather in Steeltown. It was snowing up on the escarpment. Down below, where the Lions worked out, there was a dull, cold rain and temperatures flirted just over zero.
Afterward, head coach Wally Buono said it was important to prepare in the elements and Sunday’s game figures to be played in similar conditions. But there’s another kind of preparation involved for a playoff game in a hostile environment and, as they ready for the contest, the Lions find themselves looking at a couple of veterans who know what this game means.
Solomon Elimimian was another member of the Lions’ 2011 Grey Cup team. Since that year, the Lions’ linebacker has won two defensive player of the year honours and was named the CFL’s most outstanding player in 2014.
Unfortunately, he’s had more major awards in those years — three — than the Lions had playoff victories — one, the 2016 West semifinal in which Jonathon Jennings was the starting quarterback.
On Friday, Elimimian addressed his teammates, just as veterans Brent Johnson and Angus Reid addressed the Lions in 2011. Their message back then: We’ve squandered a lot of opportunities during our time here, let’s not waste this one.
Guess what Elimimian’s message was in 2018?
“We won a Grey Cup in 2011,” Elimimian said. “It’s 2018 and we haven’t been back since.
“You can’t compare the individual awards to what the Grey Cup means. It’s the best feeling in the world and it’s something all 46-plus guys can share together. That’s what I want to emphasize to the guys. We can do something that no one can take away from you.”
OK, it would help if this was 2011 and the Lions were calling on a 28-year-old Lulay and a 25-year-old Elimimian to lead the charge. But the reality in 2018 is something different. Lulay is now 35 and is coming off two woeful outings heading into the post-season. Elimimian hasn’t played since suffering a wrist injury in mid-July and will be making his first start in 14 games.
There’s a possibility, furthermore, that neither player will be back with the Lions next season. Both make, by CFL standards, big coin. Both have a history of injuries. As Lulay says: “You never know in this game.”
But they know one thing. They have this moment with their teammates and an opportunity in front of them. That is a real thing, something they can reach out and touch, and it is rare and wonderful.
Wherever they go from there, is immaterial. The only thing that matters is where they go Sunday.
“I’ve been around long enough to know you just don’t do it every year,” Lulay said. “So often as a younger player you think, there’s next year and we’ll be better next year. That isn’t always the case.
“I know Kevin Glenn’s been in this league for 18 years.”
And still hasn’t won a Grey Cup. He, too, knows what the playoffs mean.
Sunday | East Semifinal
B.C. Lions at Hamilton Tiger-Cats
10 a.m., Tim Hortons Field, TSN, TSN 1040 AM
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