Paul McCallum’s CFL Odyssey: To Be Continued?

VANCOUVER, CANADA - NOVEMBER 27: Paul McCallum #4 of the BC Lions kicks the ball during the game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the Grey Cup at BC Place on November 27, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

He’s within striking distance of pro football’s oldest player record and can still play, but Paul McCallum isn’t interested in breaking any age barriers. “No, I’m pretty much retired,” the 47-year-old said during a visit from his west coast home last week.

Paul McCallum’s CFL Odyssey: To Be Continued?

But he still seems okay with leaving the door open, if just a crack, to breaking Bob Cameron’s record of performing as the oldest player in CFL history at age 48. “The only way is if someone got hurt and they need someone in a crunch, but pretty much I’m done. The Lions have Swayze Waters. He’s a good kicker and punter. He can do all three facets very well. I’m not going anywhere. I’ve got a yoga business in Kamloops and a real estate business in Vancouver.”

And so once again, one of the longest and most colorful professional sports careers ever comes to an end. Or at least put on hold.

The guy played through six prime ministers and started when Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer were both still topping the charts. Twenty-some years later, he was still too legit to quit even after the BC Lions announced his retirement in early 2015. He would later catch on with Saskatchewan to finish that season and come out of civilian life again late last year to help the Leos get through their playoff run while regular kicker Richie Leone fought a case of the field goal yips.

Even if he doesn’t play another down, it would be hard to imagine Paul McCallum not getting into the hall of fame on his first ballot.

Last Rough Rider Standing

How else could you appropriately honor the last Ottawa Rough Rider left standing? He spent two weeks with the team way back in 1993 and later kicked in the Ottawa Renegades’ first ever game for the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders on opening night 2002. Later, his final season came full circle in the nation’s capital when the Ottawa Redblacks won the city’s first Grey Cup championship in 40 years last November.

Did any of that matter to a guy who barely played a down for Ottawa? “It did. Because I was there during the bad times, but it’s funny because I still have fond memories of it. I was there with the Gliebermans and Dexter Manley way back when and it was a good football town. That (team) was terribly managed and owned. I think the league had to step in for Ottawa, and I think the rest of the league’s players had to subsidize their salary in order to keep the league afloat and that was done because of bad management.”

Taking a Hall of Famer’s Job

It happened before the internet was even a thing, so few would remember McCallum first came into the spotlight when he replaced star Saskatchewan Roughrider ‘robo-kicker’ Dave Ridgway late in the 1995 season on very bitter terms. Ridgway held a very public grudge toward Rider management for challenging his spot, given his legendary status. It put McCallum in a very tough place and looking back, he admits surviving that situation set the stage for a career that would run longer than Ridgway’s.

“To be very blunt with you, I think I learned a lot from Lui (Passaglia) on how to deal with that situation and my whole career exemplified it.” He credits his short time as Passaglia’s teammate with the Lions in the mid-90’s with teaching him to understand that coaches have to be honest with you and put on-field quality over loyalty and worrying about bruising a popular player’s fragile ego. “I got asked to compete and Dave didn’t like that. To me it was kind of hard to understand that. I didn’t do anything wrong. To me it’s bring them in and may the best man win.”

Making History in the XFL

That understanding propelled him onto a very short list of players who toured the CFL, the World Football League (later called NFL Europe), and the XFL. Oh yes, who could forget the XFL?

ESPN’s recent 30 for 30 documentary about Vince McMahon’s ill-fated attempt to compete with the NFL has stirred up memories for the man who kicked the first three points in the league’s history as a member of the Las Vegas Outlaws.

“I remember every week things were changing. At the beginning having the whole opening week with Vince McMahon and the whole big production, everybody wanted to see what was going on. There were some really good football players and there was some good coaching. It had the makings for something special but when the wrestling started figuring into it a bit too much, it wasn’t good.

“We had announcers who knew nothing about football, but the cameras were good. They had the Skycam there first before the NFL did and they had the guys on the field. I think the NFL does a bit of that now. But it was too little, too late. In the beginning, it wasn’t done properly and they lost the audience.”

His teammate Rod Smart became the face of the league for putting “HE HATE ME” on the back of his jersey while Paul, never one to actively seek out attention, went with plain old “McCALLUM” on his nameplate.

Interested in Management

A famous manure dumping incident intended for the McCallum family lawn in Regina and “not seeing eye to eye” with then-Roughrider GM Roy Shivers would drive Paul home to win a couple of Grey Cup rings with the BC Lions. He says his squabbles with Shivers taught him how not to treat players, and he isn’t ruling out a turn at CFL team management in his own future.

“I think I could be a good GM and a good head coach. What I mean by that is when you surround yourself with good people and let them do their job, you’re just managing people. And I think some people are meant for it and some people aren’t.”

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