Kickers are not real football players. And they aren’t real athletes.
So go the claims of the macho men who build bodies like Adonis and trade blood, sweat and snot in the trenches of the CFL.
But every once in a while, a kicker comes around who so excels at his craft – and who is so capable of more athletically – that he commands respect from every corner of the locker room.
Between 1976 and 2000, that kicker was Lui Passaglia.
“He broke the stereotype because he was never looked at that way,” former B.C. Lions teammate Giulio Caravatta said. “He could’ve played quarterback, he could’ve played receiver, he could’ve played defensive back. Guys really respected his athletic ability, and that carried over. But make no mistake, you get respect for what you do on the field. He delivered, especially in the real pressure-packed situations.”
Not only did Passaglia have one of the longest careers in the history of North American professional sport, but he also defended Canada’s gridiron honour at the 1994 Grey Cup. His game-winning field goal on the final play prevented the Baltimore Stallions from claiming the CFL championship in the first Grey Cup matchup between Canadian- and U.S.-based clubs.
Passaglia won three Grey Cups in all. He was twice named the title game’s most valuable Canadian, and he was responsible for the game-winning points on two occasions.
“To me, we have one of the best countries in the world in every facet,” said Passaglia, who will be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame on Tuesday. “So when it comes to this hall of fame, these are the elite athletes in sports and I’ve followed a lot of them. They’re not just the elite in Canada, they’re elite around the world.”
Passaglia, now 57 and a property developer who lives in Coquitlam, B.C., was also a much a better athlete than your typical kicker. Growing up on the working-class streets of East Vancouver, the scrawny kid played football, soccer, hockey and basketball.
At Notre Dame Secondary, a school with a rich football history, he played quarterback and also competed in track and field, running the 100-metres, 400-metres and the long jump. At Simon Fraser University, Passaglia played receiver and kicker after “they found a quarterback with a better arm.”
The Lions made him the fifth pick in the 1976 draft, and when his career was said and done in 2000, he would hold a number of CFL records including: most seasons (25), most games (408), most points (3,991), most field goals made (875), most converts made (1,045) and most punts (3,142).
Passaglia is now limited to golf (a 13-handicap) by old injuries, including a knee that was surgically-repaired last year, and may yet need to be replaced. He said his three sporting regrets were never playing hockey or Little League baseball, and not picking up golf sooner in life.
“On the length of my career, I just tried to keep going because I never felt old,” Passaglia said. “I felt like that kid in East Van who was hungry to play, and wasn’t going to stop until dad whistled him home. If I could’ve played five more seasons, I would’ve tried to play five more seasons.”