November 20, 2006

Kicked Out

Lions’ McCallum nails record-tying six field goals

By Sean Fitz-Gerald,
National Post

WINNIPEG – It was not that long ago when someone drove past Paul McCallum’s home and threatened to burn it down. It was right around the time two other men dumped a load of manure nearby and a province of angry fans forced him into exile, where he flourished and forced them to watch last night as he became a Grey Cup champion.

Television highlights broadcast across the country will show the 36-year-old kicker, an exiled son of Saskatchewan, drenched in Champagne after nailing a record-tying six field goals to lift the B.C. Lions to the Canadian Football League title over the Montreal Alouettes.

The Lions won 25-14 in front of a sellout crowd of 44,786 fans at Canad Inns Stadium, where surprisingly mild temperatures and fierce defence ruled the evening. McCallum’s efforts earned him the title of Most Valuable Canadian, and tied him with Don Sweet, Paul Osbaldiston and Sean Fleming for most field goals in a Grey Cup game.

Quarterback Dave Dickenson was named Most Valuable Player after completing 18 of 29 passes for 184 yards. He also rushed for 53 yards and was the main reason the Lions jumped ahead in the early going.

And when the offence broke down, McCallum was there to finish. His last might have been his most impressive, a 47-yarder with time winding down in the fourth and the outcome still very much in doubt.

“Now the daughters can go out and play on the playground and they’re not getting harassed any more,” McCallum said. “It should be good now.”

It wasn’t quite as good two years ago.

McCallum, then with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, missed an 18-yard kick in overtime against the Lions in the West Division final. Saskatchewan lost, and defeat did not rest lightly on the shoulders of some citizens. One man was eventually given a suspended sentence for threatening to burn down the kicker’s house in Regina, with a provincial court judge saying the man created an “atmosphere of terror.”

“He got a bad deal,” Lions slotback Jason Clermont said of his teammate. “He’s been a consistent player who missed one field goal that might not necessarily give his team a chance to win. It might have given his team the chance to tie the game — and everybody literally s— on him for it.”

“Being in Regina all those years, it was unfortunate I didn’t get an opportunity to win one there,” McCallum said. “But, you know what? Life goes on. I’ve moved on, came here and everything worked out for me.”

McCallum hit three field goals in the first quarter to stake the Lions to a 9-0 lead. Dickenson, the game’s MVP, wasn’t even on the field when the Vancouver-based team scored its only touchdown of the game.

B.C. coach Wally Buono substituted his 33-year-old starter for backup Buck Pierce in a number of scenarios last night, including a play in the second quarter. After Dickenson placed the Lions in position, Pierce faked a handoff to running back Joe Smith before pitching to Ian Smart.

The special teams specialist angled left and ended his run in the end zone, 25 yards away.

Montreal increased the pressure on Dickenson in the pocket, slowing the game to a crawl from an offensive standpoint.

Buono defended his decision to rotate quarterbacks, saying plans had been put in place a month ago. The team was trying to plan for a cold and windy evening in Winnipeg, and kept with the idea even under the relatively balmy and calm conditions that appeared last night.

Montreal fought back in the third quarter with a two-yard plunge from running back Robert Edwards. But with the Alouettes threatening late in the fourth quarter, Edwards was stuffed from the Lions’ two, and fumbled on the very next play.

It was a critical turn of events, and it went a long way to deciding which dressing room would feature Champagne, and which would feature silence.

“This is amazing,” Lions slotback Geroy Simon said. “Words can’t describe how I feel. To win my first one, it feels so good. It’s been a magical season.”

That kind of euphoria, predictably, did not survive in the other dressing room.

Montreal finished second in the title game for the fourth time in seven seasons. The Alouettes fell 38-35 in overtime to the Edmonton Eskimos last year, and the losing experience has not gotten any better with age.

“I’m just as devastated this year,” Montreal centre Bryan Chiu said. “We’ve been here five times. But getting here, it’s not enough. We’ve got to finish it.”

McCallum finished the job, with every chance he was given.

And whenever he’s finished playing, he’ll even return to Regina.

“Regina is my home,” he said. “That’s where we’re going to raise our kids. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to live in Vancouver — it’s just too expensive.”