When you think about it, it makes all of the sense in the world that the feel good story of the 2017 CFL season would be the one that when it turned, left you feeling like you’d been kicked in the stomach.
Travis Lulay’s season is over and his career — a nine-year run that has been the full gamut of highs, lows, grace and humility — is murky at best.
Writhing in pain on the turf after a suspected ACL, MCL and cartilage injury (per TSN’s Farhan Lalji) on the second play from scrimmage in Friday night’s game against Montreal, Lulay had to be helped to the sidelines. As it always does no matter who’s hurt, the game went on and Lulay sat, watching. He leaned his head back in disbelief at the situation and wiped the tears from his eyes before he was helped to the locker room.
Travis Lulay is helped off the field after suffering a knee injury in the first quarter vs. Montreal (Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca)
My most recent memory of Travis Lulay is picturing him standing outside the visitors’ room at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton last month. He’d come in for an injured Jonathon Jennings and in his first serious amount of playing time in over a year, gave his team a career night, passing for 436 yards and a win.
You know those pictures of little kids at their birthday parties? Where that high of birthday cake, having all of their friends in the same room and a boatload of presents makes them smile so hard that their bottom teeth show? That night in Hamilton, Lulay was the 33-year-old version of that. He spoke at length about his night, what it meant to be back, about the twists and turns of the last five years of his career. His chest was puffed out a little and he was smiling. He exuded joy.
A shoulder injury, an MCL sprain, the loss of his starting job to a QB eight years younger than him; it all spelled what should have been his career fading to black. Then Jennings went down, Lulay stepped in and felt like his 2011, MOP-winning self again. It took a few weeks, but he regained his starting job. Lulay’s story was one of the best in the league this year.
“I’ve been there and done that. Maybe it’s easier for me in this stage of my career to recognize that nothing’s as permanent as people think.”
Lulay’s return to starting QB quickly became one of the top storylines of 2017 (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)
The most impressive thing about Travis Lulay isn’t his resume. Someone wins the MOP and the Grey Cup every year. The best quarterbacks in the league take turns dominating, padding their stats and winning. Lulay did that and when it was taken away from him, when the sun appeared to be starting to set on him, he stepped back and played a smaller role. He went into the 2016 season as the Lions’ clear backup. Before that game in Hamilton last month, his most significant contribution to his team was catching something on the iPad on the sideline and alerting Jennings to it. There aren’t many people that can go from being a face of the league to holding on field goals.
After the game Friday, Wally Buono said he told Lulay he hoped he could go on the road with them for Saturday’s game in Calgary.
“I want him to understand that we want him to be a part of our team,” he said. “He is a coach. He might be the life coach for Jonathon and if he can be the life coach for Jonathon he can contribute because that’s going to help us to win.”
While the Lions handed out game balls, linebacker Solomon Elimimian acknowledged his longtime teammate.
“Lu, we love you man. You’re a warrior, you work hard and we can’t really imagine what you’re going through. Know we’ve got your back,” he said.
Standing on crutches after the game, Lulay hoped this would all make sense. He eventually ended up praising Jennings for re-asserting himself and leading the Lions to a win.
He posted this note on his Twitter account on Saturday morning:
The road ahead is an uncertain one. By all indications there will surgery and an extensive rehab. If he wants to keep playing, he’ll be a 34-year-old free agent in February. It’d be possible he might not be able to get back on the field until he’s 35.
If he decides he’s done playing, the coaching role — a life coach or a role more specific — could become permanent. Like he said after the game, down the road this may make more sense to him. It might make more sense to us all.
“You say life isn’t fair, it’s not fair,” Buono said on Friday. “Here’s a guy that’s gone through so much, all of a sudden is back on top and it’s taken away from him again. Professional sports is cruel, there’s no justice.”
You cherish those moments where the people that deserve success the most get it, where they’re smiling so hard that their bottom teeth show. You cherish them because they very rarely fully play out the way you want them to.
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