B.C. Lions' kicker Paul McCallum falls to the ground in celebration after kicking a 53-yard game-winning field goal during the second half of a CFL football game against the Calgary Stampeders in Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday October 8, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
No one ever forgets where they were when they received The Call. For Lions and CFL legend Paul McCallum, we love to call him Clutch, getting the notification he is headed to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame was definitely met with both honour and emotion. It came on the day his late mother Katherine would have celebrated her birthday.
Needless to say, it made for some emotional reaction while he was getting some real estate work done at his local Starbucks. When asked to reflect on getting the call, he once again got emotional on a ZOOM call with members of the media.
“My mom was a huge supporter. It didn’t hit me quite like this, but I’m sad that she’s not here to experience it and share it with me. But that’s how I found out, “said a teary-eyed McCallum during last week’s embargoed media call.
And you can bet he’ll be thinking of her once again when he officially gets inducted on September 16th at the ceremony in Hamilton. What a ride for the pride of Surrey.
McCallum’s Canadian Football Hall of Fame career didn’t exactly start with great hype or an early signature moment that screamed he was destined to be enshrined. Far from it. The path to the Hall for Paul McCallum began after he originally pursued a pro soccer career in Third Division Scotland with St. Mirren and the Hamilton Academicals.
The pride of Queen Elizabeth Secondary wound up back home playing with the BCFC Surrey Rams when his first opportunity to showcase himself for the BC Lions arose in 1991.
“Playing with the Rams, the Lions asked me and four or five players if we would go practice with them at the end of their season,” the kicker recalled.
“Doug Flutie was there and I think, Mark Gastineau. Murray Pezim was the owner. I’ll never forget it was (then director of player personnel) Bill Quinter on the last practice day of the season, it was raining so hard in Surrey funny enough, and we went to BC Place.
Bill kept me afterwards and worked me out really hard. He had to drive me back to Surrey because the team left. He told me on that drive back from BC Place that I had a lot of ability and talent, but because I was raw, I had to work at it. From there, I was determined. I had two years left of junior so I was practising with the Lions on my own time.”
Quinter’s encouragement always stuck with him. But like many in Paul’s position at that early stage of his career, there were plenty of sacrifices involved. McCallum was also making a living for BC Transit driving HandyDart vans. Throw in some Lions practices on top of his regular commitments with the Rams over those next two years and there was plenty of juggling for his day-to-day schedule.
“I had to change my shifts to drive around so I could make those Lions practices on my own time,” he said.
“Definitely a lot of sacrifices when I was young. I did what I had to do. It was a long time ago but it seems like yesterday.”
McCallum Kick Had Big Stamp On Historic Turnaround
As fate would have it, McCallum had to go to Saskatchewan to establish himself as one of the best placekickers of his generation. After 11 seasons with the Riders and one short stint with the XFL Las Vegas Outlaws sandwiched in between, he returned home to the Lions as a free agent just ahead of the 2006 campaign.
The early returns were triumphant as McCallum tied a Grey Cup record with six successful field goals in the 25-14 win over Montreal to seal the franchise’s fifth title. He would earn Grey Cup Most Valuable Canadian for his efforts. Yet it was his impact on the remarkable 2011 Grey Cup turnaround that McCallum claims to have enjoyed the most. Flashback to October 8th of that season when the squad was hosting Calgary in a critical West Division clash.
That night was a rollercoaster of emotions for the CFL’s oldest player. First, he set a new league record by booting a 30th consecutive field goal to give the home side a 30-25 fourth-quarter lead. The streak was not only snapped on his next attempt but the miss was returned all the way for a 122-yard touchdown by Calgary’s Larry Taylor. 31-30 Stampeders with 3:48 to play. All that did was set up the ultimate climax.
Travis Lulay then drove the home side to the edge of McCallum’s range with two ticks on the clock. Staring them in the face was a 53-yard attempt for a walk-off win.
” I was walking out to kick it and Wally put his hand up and waved me off as I was walking on the field. Then I put my hands up and waved him off and kept walking. He just put his hands up and said ‘alright,’ ” recalled McCallum on the memorable victory.
“It was memorable because of how that happened and then I made the kick. That was the most memorable moment for sure.”
The 33-31 victory was significant because the Lions would end up finishing first in the West by virtue of holding the head-to-head tiebreakers on both Calgary and Edmonton. All three teams ended up with 11-7 records. Without that successful kick, the Lions end up in third place and on the road throughout the Western playoffs.
Along with winning a second Grey Cup that season, McCallum would earn a second consecutive CFL All-Star nod and further cement his place amongst all-time great Lion kickers. Who knows where he would have ended up without some early career tutelage from the best to ever do it at the position?
Learning From Lui
Amidst all those practices and extra work sessions with the Lions during his junior days, it seemed like the longest of shots McCallum would ever get the chance to kick for his hometown team.
One of those reasons had to do with the guy wearing number 5. Lui Passaglia showed no signs of slowing down in the mid to late 90s which was why McCallum wound up moving to Regina to kickstart his career. Getting the chance to practice with Passaglia proved to be invaluable for the younger kicker as he began to pursue his own professional goals.
“Lui was always very supportive and I don’t mean this in a bad way to him; I was going to say father figure, but let’s just say mentor,” said the 2022 Hall of Fame inductee.
“He would lead by example, but by not saying anything. In training camp, we kickers have a little bit more time than most. Sometimes after camp or even in between practices, Lu and I would go out to eat or for a beer. If we went out at night, we would sometimes have a little bit too much.”
As he would quickly learn, going out late at night didn’t nullify the obligation to show up the next day and performed your tasks to the fullest: something Passaglia always did no matter what the circumstances.
“The next morning if we didn’t feel so good, I would be dragging my butt and Lui would have already run four laps before I even got onto the field,” McCallum remembers.
“He always made a point of telling me ‘your priority is what you’re here to do. If you want to go out and have some fun, you have to still go and do your job. We’ve got people here depending on you.'”
Now McCallum joins Lui amongst several other greats in the Hall. A pretty remarkable feat for the kid from Surrey who began his life as a pro playing Third Division soccer across the pond. You can also bet Katherine McCallum hasn’t stopped smiling from up above. Her son indeed has one heck of a Hall of Fame story.