O’Leary: Lulay departs the Lions as a great on and off the field

It’s been a tough week. We’re swimming in uncertainty and as I wrote a few days back, this is normally the time that you would start to gear up for rookie camps and training camps opening up. No matter how all-consuming the coverage of this pandemic is and how much you prep yourself for it, the feeling of missing football is really starting to hit home.

That doesn’t mean things aren’t still happening, though. Said uncertainty aside, one thing that jumped out to me this week was the news that Travis Lulay has left the BC Lions to join his family’s business in Stayton, Oregon.

Lulay came to the CFL in 2009 and we really got to see what he was about in the 2011 season, when he led the Lions on a magical journey to the Grey Cup. That Lions team started 0-5 then hit 1-6 before winning eight games in a row and 10 out of their last 11 to finish first in the West Division. While Winnipeg gave that Lions team a tough Grey Cup game, the playoffs felt like a formality.

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Lulay, pictured here with Jonathan Jennings at his right, accepted a backup role late in his career before regaining the starting gig in BC (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

The Lions clicked at the right time and dug themselves out of a tremendous hole and Lulay was a key part of that. Lulay threw for 4,815 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushed for 391 yards and three touchdowns, earning the league’s MOP award and Grey Cup MVP honours.

Throughout his 10-year career, Lulay was the perfect face of the franchise type of player. He understood the responsibilities that come with being the star of the show, whether it was dealing with media daily or making appearances in the community. He was thoughtful and honest and always seemed to enjoy dealing with people on the periphery of his team, from those holding microphones and cameras to those looking for autographs or selfies.

He fought through multiple shoulder and knee injuries that could have derailed his career, lost his starting job to Jonathan Jennings and accepted a backup role. Not many players with Lulay’s resume would have done that. He got that starting job back before his career wound down in 2018. After retiring, Lulay took a job in the Lions office in corporate partnerships.

It’ll be strange to think about the Lions without Lulay around in some capacity, but this is something every organization goes through when its franchise players move on. Postmedia’s Ed Willes touches on it in his piece (link at the top) but it’s something that the Lions were already going through in the post-Wally Buono era.

Still, players and personalities like Lulay are the kinds that you wish every team in the league could have every season. Doors rarely fully close for people like him, but you hope he walks back through it in some capacity in the not-too-distant future.

TSN’s CFL Encore games tonight are centred around Milt Stegall and Geroy Simon, but when the second half of that double header starts, take some time to watch Simon’s QB and to appreciate that Lions team. Lulay was such a fun player to watch. He had a great arm, escapability and once he got a step out of the pocket and a good block he was tough to bring down. We had 10 seasons to watch Travis Lulay, but a part of me always wishes I could have seen him play longer than that.