It’s not unusual for pro football teams to give up on their star quarterback at the first sign of trouble. Loyalty means very little in a world full of short careers and non-guaranteed contracts and the great game of gridiron has never been one of patience for run down old has-beens. But the loyalty that the B.C. Lions have shown to their second-string quarterback Travis Lulay is nothing short of amazing. Wally Buono’s approach deserves praise, not only for its integrity but for the results on the field.
Loyalty to Travis Lulay Sets Lions Apart
Another Example of Wally Buono’s Brilliance
The San Diego Chargers once cut bait on free agent Drew Brees and his surgically repaired throwing shoulder and only two of the NFL’s other thirty-one franchises—the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins—saw fit to even offer the future Super Bowl champion superstar pivot a contract.
Heck, the Saskatchewan Roughriders record without Darian Durant has been a horrendous 10 and 38 since he went down with his first serious injury in 2014. That was right after he became only the fourth quarterback in the century long history of the franchise to bring home a Grey Cup. Even he couldn’t generate enough respect from coach/general manager/defensive coordinator/VP of football operations Chris Jones to garner anything more complimentary than ‘moderately successful’ and a one-way ticket out of town for a bag of footballs and kicking tees.
Pro sports is a crazy business but the CFL is the king of all leagues when it comes to dumping yesterday’s stars onto the scrap heap. All of which makes the B.C. Lions’ patience with Travis Lulay all the more impressive.
Looked Like Damaged Goods
It all came to a crashing halt for the one-time Grey Cup MVP on a late season hit. A touchdown run against Montreal Alouettes defensive back Geoff Tisdale late in 2013 ended in injury. Lulay would see only spot duty and pedestrian results over the next two seasons until Jonathon Jennings emerged last year, relegating Lulay to old-man backup status seemingly for life. But Lions general manager and head coach Wally Buono never gave up on him.
Wally Knew What they Had
He just couldn’t do it. Some thought it was because Wally felt indebted to Lulay. He almost single-handedly rescued the team from an 0 and 5 record—and maybe Buono from losing his job—with a late season sprint and Grey Cup championship in 2011. It was Wally’s swan song as head coach—or so we thought (see: Mike Benevides; Jeff Tedford) at the time. Lulay delivered him his dream ending and damned if Wally was going to let the guy who finally freed him from Casey Printers go down without a fight.
But in the three-plus years since his star dropped down to earth, Lulay has shown a side few star quarterbacks have: humility. He never complained. He never bailed on meetings or helping the caravan of his replacements prepare for games. The guy just wouldn’t quit. And there he was in a week 3 win at Montreal, finding plays on the tablet from the sideline for Wally Buono to challenge, not gawking at the crowd like most backups. Lulay has always quietly bought into that team-first mentality, which got him to the starter’s chair in the first place. The guy is a winner and Wally knows it.
The late legendary Lions president Bob Ackles wrote a sterling memoir shortly before his death in 2008. In that piece, he described the differences in being led by the me-first mentality of Casey Printers which ended in disappointment. He compared it to the team-first mentality of Dave Dickenson, Jarious Jackson, and Buck Pierce that followed and won them a championship. If Wally didn’t the read book, he certainly subscribes to same philosophy of the man who recruited him to Vancouver in the first place.
Three and a Half Years, then Two Weeks
It’s been three and a half years since that throwing shoulder injury appeared to derail Lulay’s career. It’s been two weeks since he’s gone from glorified bench warmer to passing for 840 yards and 5 touchdowns. His shoulder looked pretty good against Hamilton and then Winnipeg.
The Leos are once again a legit threat to win it all despite the catastrophic injury to their star quarterback Jonathon Jennings. And it’s Wally Buono’s foresight and vision to keep Travis Lulay which sets the head coach and his team a cut above the rest.