Before Mike Reilly was introduced as the new quarterback of the BC Lions, he went shopping at his favourite hat store in Seattle. He managed to find a stylish homburg in a burnt-orange colour with splashes of black.
“It was like the only one they had in stock,” said Reilly, who was joined by his wife and two young daughters at a news conference Tuesday. “I was glad I didn’t get stuck with some big sombrero.
“I had to wear a hat today, I couldn’t not. That would be a massive disappointment for everybody.”
Anyone looking for symbolism could read a lot into Reilly’s new head gear. One of the CFL’s most sought after free agents wanted something innovative after agreeing to a four-year term with the Lions.
The chapeau also represents Reilly’s duel role with the Lions. Not only will he be pivotal in reshaping the Lions’ fortunes on the field, he also will play an important part in revitalizing franchise’s fan base and making the team relevant again in the Vancouver sports market.
“I relish that role for sure,” said the 34-year-old, who was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2017 and the Grey Cup MVP with the Edmonton Eskimos in 2015. “You have to be involved at a number of different levels. That’s another part of what made me excited about the opportunity to potentially come here and what makes me so excited sitting here today.”
In his six years with the Eskimos Reilly threw for close to 27,000 yards and 144 touchdowns. He’s thrown for over 5,500 yards in each of the last three seasons. He was an important building block in an Eskimo franchise that won just four games in his first year in Edmonton.
Reilly had spent three years with the Lions as a backup before then Eskimo general manager Ed Hervey swung a trade to bring him to Edmonton. Hervey is confident the Midas touch Reilly had in Edmonton will be golden on the West Coast.
“The signing of Mike Reilly changes the face of our franchise,” said Hervey, who is in his second season as the Lions’ GM. “It changes the reflection of our overlook moving forward.
“I think it’s quite simple for us to say that today makes a statement (about) our commitment to winning championships and not just being an ordinary football team.”
Reilly was a backup on the 2011 BC team that won the Grey Cup. Since then the Lions have been 1-7 in playoff games and were outscored 238-103 in those losses.
The last few years have been tough for the Lions. They battle for fans with the NHL Vancouver Canucks and the Whitecaps of Major League Soccer. The NFL Seattle Seahawks are under a three-hour drive away.
Team officials hope Reilly can bring a jolt of excitement, like an extra shot of espresso in a cup of coffee.
At six-foot-three and 230-pounds Reilly is a gunslinger. He can burn you with a deep pass or put his head down and run for a first down. Over the last three seasons he’s rushed for 1,311 yards on 319 carries and 34 touchdowns.
Hervey hopes his swashbuckling attitude creates new fans.
“He and I share the same passion for this league,” Hervey said. “We understand we have to do our part to help this league.
“That means we have to inject life into a fan base (where) some may be skeptical. Today, for those who were sitting on the fence, we have put our money where our mouth is. We believe we are building a championship.”
Hervey is realistic enough to understand Reilly needs a team around him. On the first day of free agency the Lions also added offensive guard Sukh Chungh, receiver Lemar Durant and veteran defensive back Aaron Grymes.
Signing the six-foot-four, 300-pound Chungh, a Port Coquitlam, B.C., native, is key to creating an offensive line that will allow Reilly time and space to operate.
“Our priority is to make sure we are able to protect him,” said Hervey. “You don’t bring a player of Mike’s calibre in and not protect him.”
Reilly comes at a cost. His contract is worth around $725,000 a year.
“Things have to be sacrificed if you want to be great,” said Hervey. “That means some familiar names will no longer be with us.”
One of those players whose future remains in doubt is quarterback Travis Lulay, who is a close friend of Reilly.
Hervey said the Lions are giving Lulay time to decide on his future.
“We’ve giving him his time to decide what he wants to do,” said Hervey.
Signing with he Lions means Reilly has come full circle. He began his CFL career in BC, became a star in Edmonton, and how has returned.
Reilly looks back fondly on his time with the Eskimos.
“It was a great time for me personally,” he said. “It was six years of building incredible memories.
“That chapter is now done. We are here to talk about the current, the future. It’s something I’m extremely excited about.”
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