His red hair is a little longer than the usual trim cut. Travis Lulay’s teammates joke he let himself go in the six weeks the CFL quarterback was out with an injured throwing shoulder. And his wife is not a fan, either.
People like to say, when it comes to football playoffs, that defence wins championships. But that belies the fact that so often the postseason hero is the man on whose shoulders success truly rests, the quarterback. And for the second consecutive season, the fate of the B.C. Lions’ season weighs heavily on the uncertain right shoulder of Lulay.
A year ago, Lulay only missed a few games when he banged up his shoulder, but faltered when the league-best 13-5 Lions lost at home to the Calgary Stampeders in the West Division final.
This year, the Lions’ season faltered during Lulay’s long absence after he hurt his throwing shoulder again, finishing 11-7 and third in the West. A trip to the Grey Cup means two difficult road games, starting in the division semi-final Sunday in the cold, cacophonous confines of Mosaic Stadium in Regina against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“It’s okay,” the 30-year-old Lulay said of his shoulder in an interview after practice at BC Place this week. “It’s feeling better. It is improving. It was really good to get back out there with the guys last weekend.”
Lulay returned to game action last week in the comforts of home in an otherwise-meaningless game against Calgary. He looked good in brief work, completing three passes, including a 36-yarder, and punctuated his showing by punching in a one-yard touchdown.
As of Friday midday, Lulay had not yet been proclaimed the starter for Sunday, but it would be a shock if head coach Mike Benevides went with anyone but his star pivot, even if Lulay is not fully healthy and could well need surgery in the off-season.
For Lulay, who was made the highest paid player before the 2013 season began, the spectre of worsening the situation for his shoulder should something go awry in Regina is not one he allows to weigh.
“There’s risk every time we step on the field,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t go out there and play scared. You’ve got to go out and play confident.”
In Saskatchewan, B.C. faces a team with a job to finish.
All year long, green eyes looked toward the 2013 Grey Cup date in Regina circled in late November, and when the Riders hit the halfway point of the season at 8-1, with running back Kory Sheets putting up a historic campaign, it felt like it could be wire-to-wire. Instead, Sheets was hurt for a couple weeks, the Riders stumbled, going 3-6 in the second half, and the Stamps surged.
So now Saskatchewan’s road to Regina begins at home, but would continue on through Calgary should the Riders take care of the Lions.
And even if it is truer that offences win championships, the Riders do face a stiff test against the B.C. defence – one made more difficult because of injury (slotback Chris Getzlaf, the Saskatchewan’s leading receiver, is out).
The Lions’ dozen defenders have been, at times, up and down in 2013, but they ended the year with the best pass defence and second-best run defence – almost becoming the first team in CFL history to lead the league in pass and rush defence two consecutive years.
Cord Parks, a cornerback who turns 27 on Tuesday, is one of the new additions. After not cracking through in the NFL, Parks became a West Division all-star in Canada with his six interceptions (second most in the CFL), while his 121 return yards were tops among defensive backs.
But in a year in which the Lions uncharacteristically are almost non-existent in the individual CFL player awards, Parks waves off the importance of such accolades.
“My goal is to win a Grey Cup,” he said.
Seems tough, he is told, with the three road games to get the job done. He smiles. Parks has dedicated this season to his father, Harold Morrison, who died at 61 in April, just as Parks signed the deal to come north to play three-down football.
“Depending on who you are, and how you look at it.”