The signs are everywhere, he said. A familiar moon has risen, stars are aligning. It’s as if history has moved to the brink of repetition, either that or its flashback time. Seventeen years in reverse.
That’s how Lui Passaglia sees it – 2011 as 1994. The similarities are as thick as a B.C. rain cloud. And he should know. Passaglia was here in 1994, when the Vancouver Canucks got to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final and lost, sparking riots in the downtown core.
He was there when his B.C. Lions stumbled along; no one’s bet to be in the 1994 Grey Cup, yet that’s where they ended up, on their home turf at B.C. Place Stadium, championship winners thanks to Passaglia’s last-play, game-winning field goal.
Those Lions became one of only three CFL teams to win the Grey Cup at home since 1955, the first year the title game was played outside of Eastern Canada. No other team has done it since, which brings us back to 2011.
In a city where the Canucks lost another Game 7 in the 2011 Stanley Cup final, sparking another riot and much hand-wringing, the present-day Lions are poised to relive the past. And wouldn’t you know it? They have a team that overcame its shaky moments and boasts a kicker, like Passaglia, who just might do the job.
“Magic’s in the air,” said Passaglia, a central figure in this week’s 99th Grey Cup celebrations. “You couldn’t write a more similar script.”
You’d think this business of winning a Grey Cup at home would happen with greater frequency, especially when the CFL has operated with just eight teams. Instead, it’s been a gridiron rarity, wrought with upsets and what ifs. For the 1994 Lions, though, it was the culmination of an improbable November. Magic, indeed.
Considered an underdog to both the Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders, B.C. won two playoff games by a single point to take on the all-American Baltimore Stallions in the Grey Cup. The pressure on the Lions was not only to win at home, but to keep the Grey Cup from heading south of the border for the first time in its history.
Darren Flutie said the sounds and feelings from that Grey Cup have never left him.
“The thing I remember most was the electricity in the dome. It felt like no other game I’ve ever played in. It shot through you,” the former Lions receiver said. “They played both national anthems and I was next to Vic Stevenson and Jamie Taras and Lui. Looking at them when the Canadian anthem was played and how emotional they were, it was choking me up.”
The game came down to a 38-yard field-goal attempt in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter. Passaglia replayed the kick 17 years later, the excitement still in his voice.
“Darren [Flutie]was the holder; Matt Clark the snapper. The clock was stopped at seven seconds when I looked up. [The ball]was on the left hash. I went through the same mental reps as before,” Passaglia said. “The next thing I knew, the fans were standing up and Darren was trying to lift me in the air.
“It wasn’t the prettiest end-over-end field goal, but it did the job.”
That kick in that game cemented Passaglia’s reputation as a clutch performer and made up for the great loss in his career, the 1983 Grey Cup, also played at B.C. Place. If winning a title at home is the ultimate for a CFL player then losing one in your hometown is the consummate downer. It was for Passaglia, who hated leaving the house and being recognized by people who wanted to know what went wrong.
This week, he’ll happily be among the fans, riding in the Grey Cup parade and presenting the CFL’s top special-teams player award, perhaps to the Lions current kicker, Paul McCallum. It would be oh so fitting if the Lions were to win again on a McCallum field goal, but even Passaglia knows that would be pushing fate.
“As much as you’d like a fantasy ending to the game with a last-play field goal, a 20-point win would be nice, too,” Passaglia said.
Same result; just a little different magic.