Listening to Travis Lulay speak with Farhan Lalji after the BC Lions’ 20-17 comeback win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, I was really happy he took a moment to make it about him. Yes I know it’s a taboo in the sports world to venture away from “us” into “me” when speaking with the press, but you know what, Lulay deserved to feel good about himself.
Lulay had spent almost 10 months rehabbing his knee after having ACL surgery on it back in September. Now here he was playing the role of the winning quarterback when no one was even sure if he would start this week. Coach Wally Buono was quoted days before the game saying he didn’t know who would start against the Bombers, with one quote having Buono leaning towards giving Jonathon Jennings the start. Lulay himself wasn’t even 100 per cent of his status, saying “I’m trying to close that last five per cent gap to be fully game ready.”
There was one other quote from that post-game interview with Farhan that stuck out for me:
“Didn’t know if I would have another opportunity to do this.”
Think about the uncertainty that has been following Lulay over the past year. On Sept. 8, 2017 Lulay tears up his knee on the team’s first drive against the Montreal Alouettes and his remarkable comeback season that was shaping up to be one of the feel-good stories of 2017 comes to a horrible end. Lulay goes under the knife soon after and is staring at nearly a year of grueling rehab without a contract. The Lions eventually sign him to a one-year deal about five months later.
A lot of us wondered before that deal if we had seen the last of the 2011 MOP and Grey Cup Champion. I wonder if he had the same thoughts as well. I wonder if Travis seriously entertained the idea of starting the next phase of his life. To go from those quiet, lonely moments of rehab where his football future was up in the air to helping his team snap a two-game losing streak is one hell of an emotional swing.
As for the game itself, Lulay was good but he wasn’t spectacular. His first pass was a one hopper to Bryan Burnham; his longest completion that helped set up the game winning field goal was courtesy of Burnham using his size and positioning to win a jump ball situation against a smaller defender. Lulay’s second-longest pass was more about Chris Rainey laughing in the face of defensive players taking aggressive angles in a futile attempt to tackle him (translation: he fast!) Even on his one touchdown pass I have to credit Shaq Johnson for making several players miss as he forced his way just across the goal line.
What impressed me about Lulay was his confidence. Physically he didn’t look like a player making his first start after such a devastating injury; he stood in the pocket and made the throws without shying away from contact. He spread the wealth, hitting eight different receivers and most impressively he and the Lions’ offence just kept coming in the second half after getting blanked in the first 30 minutes. Overall Lulay, Buono and Jarious Jackson (offensive coordinator and QB’s coach) have to be thrilled by what they saw. This was an experienced quarterback who was able to shake off early mistakes to do what he had to do to give his team a chance to win. Yeah that last sentence is 100 per cent pure cliché, but it’s also true.
If I may step off the Lulay train for a moment I have two quick side thoughts.
1. How did the Bombers lose this game? They shut out the Lions in the first half, they stopped Chris Rainey on a third-and-short, their special teams executed a perfect onside kick after going up 14-0 and somehow they watched a 17-0 lead turn into a 20-17 loss. Wow, that one is going to hurt!
2. We are not having this Lulay lovefest if it wasn’t for the Lions’ defence and the work they did shutting out the Bombers over the final 30 minutes. The Ty Long winning field goal was all set up by a Davon Coleman sack then an Anthony Orange deflected interception.
I am completely torn. I, like so many other CFL fans/media, have been rooting for the return of 2016 Jonathon Jennings. You remember the quarterback who accounted for over 5,500 passing/rushing yards and 31 total touchdowns in one season? Boy wasn’t that guy fun to watch! The league is in a better place with that guy challenging secondaries deep but we haven’t seen the 2016 version for ages and I’m starting to wonder if we will ever again.
Having an effective Lulay starting under centre and taking the majority of first-team reps in practice won’t exactly help accelerate the process for Jennings. His demise is truly one of the great current mysteries in this game. Of course, who doesn’t love a good comeback story? We were all robbed of the Lulay comeback in 2017; maybe we are in store for a much more satisfying sequel this year. With Chris Rainey, Bryan Burnham, Emmanuel Arceneaux and Jeremiah Johnson there are more than enough weapons to help Lulay transition back into being a full-time starter.
As much as I love watching Jennings, the rebirth of Travis Lulay after such a tortuous 10 months does make for damn compelling theatre. Here’s hoping for a better ending.
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