January 9, 2010

’94 Grey Cup-winning Lions honoured

Gary Kingston
Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER — With the NHL shut down due to a lockout in the fall of 1994, young Quebec Nordiques star Joe Sakic was free to join buddies at BC Place for the historic Grey Cup game between the B.C. Lions and Baltimore CFLers.

Mr. Clutch is hometown hero

B.C. Lions’ kicker Lui Passaglia kicks the winning field goal to defeat Baltimore in the 1994 Grey Cup at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver.

“That was such a great game, back and forth, it was awesome,” the Burnaby native enthused in a conference call Thursday of a game won 26-23 by the Leos on a last-play field goal by local legend Lui Passaglia.

“The place went nuts. It was good to keep the championship in Canada.”

Sakic, who, ironically enough, would go on to win two Stanley Cups in Colorado during a 20-year NHL career, but also Olympic gold for Canada in 2002, heads the 2010 induction class for the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. And he was delighted to learn during the conference call that he was going in in the same year as those ’94 Lions.

“I loved the Lions. We enjoyed that big win.”

Sakic, 40, retired after last season, leaving the game as the eighth-leading scorer (625 goals, 1,016 assists) in NHL history. The slick centre with the quick snapshot won the Hart and Conn Smythe trophies in 2001 as regular-season and playoff MVP and Olympic gold in 2002 when he was the tournament MVP at Salt Lake City.

“Being a B.C. boy and to be inducted into the hall for British Columbia, it really is a huge honour for me,” said Sakic, who lives near Denver where he coaches his two sons’ hockey teams.

He’s bringing his family to Vancouver for the second week of the 2010 Olympics. But it also sounds like he’ll be a torch bearer when the torch relay goes through his hometown in early February.

“Nothing’s confirmed yet,” insisted Sakic. “But it would be a great honour to do that.”

Among the other athlete inductees for 2010 is ex-CFL running back Sean Millington.

The North Vancouver native who starred at Simon Fraser University, played 13 CFL seasons, several of them with the Lions as a bulldozer-like runner with a nose for the end zone.

His 6,086 yards (5.4-yards per carry average) ranks 24th all-time, just behind ex-Lion Willie Fleming, but second only to Normie Kwong among Canadian running backs. His 75 rushing touchdowns are sixth all-time behind CFL legends George Reed, Mike Pringle, Damon Allen, Kwong and Matt Dunigan.

“To be mentioned in the same breath as Normie Kwong or Willie Fleming, a lot of these guys who accomplished amazing things in the Canadian Football League, to a certain extent leaves me speechless,” said Millington, now an investment adviser and part-time actor.

The chisel led 6-foot -3, 225-pounder, who was on the Lions’ ’94 team and the 2000 Grey Cup winners, was a quirky presence in his early days, using SkyTrain and a skateboard to get to practice in Surrey.

“Oh yeah, he marched to a different drummer ol’ Millie,” laughed Lions’ guard Jamie Taras, who recalls the fullback often had his head buried in fantasy novels. “I’d say he was caught in the Twilight Zone. He never knew when practice was or what time it was. But once he got there he sure knew what he was doing.”

Often that meant rambling over defenders and even up the back of his blockers.

“We used to call him the drunken sailor the way he would run,” said Taras.

Millington was a three-time all-star and a two-time winner of the most outstanding Canadian award.

Taras and fellow guard Rob Smith, members of B.C.’s all-Canadian offensive line, recalled fondly the ’94 Grey Cup, which was stoked with nationalistic fervour given that Baltimore, part of the CFL’s short-lived U.S. expansion, fielded a team entirely of American-born players.

“We were going to get walked all over, slapped around like red-headed stepchildren,” said Smith. “We kind of turned the tide on them, won the battle in the trenches that day.”

The 2010 inductees will be formally enshrined at a banquet in September.