CFL heroes: Lui Passaglia

Who He Was

Lui Passaglia was born, raised, educated, and still lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. He played football in high school in Vancouver, and at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. We’re wondering if someone should tell him that he can actually leave Vancouver, if he wants.

Don’t tell BC Lions fans that, though. Because Lui Passaglia is one of the greatest players ever to put on a Lions jersey. For a quarter century, he was the BC Lions’ first-string kicker. And he had one of the most astoundingly long careers in any sport that actually pays people who play it.

Why He Was Great

Lui Passaglia started with the BC Lions in 1976, and as it happens scored his first points as a wide receiver; he hauled in a 10-yard touchdown pass in his first-ever professional game. Soon after, he was moved to kicking duties. He stayed there a long time.

How long? Well, in 1986, a young kicker named Paul Osbaldiston joined the BC Lions squad as the backup to Passaglia. By this time, Passaglia had been the Lions’ kicker for ten years, and Osbaldiston figured he’d probably get to take over soon.

Luckily for Osbaldiston, he moved on to Winnipeg, and then to Hamilton; there he carved out his own remarkable career, owning many of the Tiger-Cats’ kicking records. It was a pretty good move, because the job opening he was hoping for in BC was a long time coming. Passaglia remained the Lion’s top kicker until 2000. Osbaldiston himself retired in 2003, only three years later.

Passaglia’s career was unlike any other in CFL history. 25 years as an active, first-string player for the same team. You might point out that a kicker tends to have a little more longevity than other players, of course, and you’d be right. But even in that position, there’s no one who’s played 408 pro football games, in the CFL or anywhere else.

And it wasn’t as though he was a second-rate player; Passaglia was consistently among the top kickers in the league, year after year. He was picked as a CFL all-star four times, and as a Western all-star nine times. He was the first player to break 200 points in a single season with 214 points in 1987. His career points total, 3,991, is so far beyond any other football player in history, we had to double-check to make sure we weren’t mixing him up with a player from some other sport.

Was he a decent player, though? Or just around for a long time? Well, his field goal percentage was consistently high, dipping below 70% only seven times in his 25 seasons. He missed only three converts in his career, on 1048 attempts, including 560 successful converts in a row. And his quality never wavered, right to the end of his career: the 2000 season was his best ever, with 40 field goals out of 44 attempts — 90.9% for the year, which stood as the record until 2011.

Oh, and about that 2000 season, where Old Man Passaglia shuffled off to retirement. That was the year the BC Lions won the Grey Cup, 28-26 over the Montreal Alouettes. On a Lui Passaglia field goal, natch.

One Great Moment

1994 was the second year of the CFL’s ill-fated US expansion. Three more teams joined the league, and although BC had a middling season, all four Canadian teams in the west made the playoffs. BC eked out one-point victories against Edmonton and Calgary, and were squaring off against the Baltimore team at home in BC Place.

Canadians, of course, were aghast at the thought of a non-Canadian team winning the Grey Cup; this wasn’t what the league was expecting after only two years of expansion into the USA.

Baltimore, helmed by Tracy Ham, was there to play. They took a 17-10 lead into the locker room at the half and kept the lead until late in the third quarter. The teams exchanged field goals in the fourth, but as the clock closed in on one minute remaining, the teams were deadlocked at 23 points apiece.

Lui Passaglia had had a strong day. He had made three out of four field goals, the only miss coming on a long 49-yard attempt. And with 1:04 on the clock, BC was on the Baltimore 30; draining a 37-yard field goal would most likely win the game for the Lions.

Passaglia missed.

Think about the kicker position for a minute. Unlike any other football position, the kicker wins or loses games on his skill alone. Once the ball is on the ground in front of you — unless something goes catastrophically wrong — it’s your boot, the ball, and pure physics.

Nothing went catastrophically wrong except the kick itself. The ball went up weakly, wobbling and fading, and fell outside the upright, into the shallow end zone. The returner got hold of it and scampered out of the end zone with it; not even a single on the play.

Less than one minute left.

Baltimore’s drive was quickly snuffed out, and suddenly there was hope. A less-than-spectacular punt and a couple of BC running plays put them back on the Baltimore 31 yard line, and with nothing left on the clock, Passaglia was in again.

55,000 screaming hometown fans had just watched him miss from a yard closer. What was going through his head? What self-doubts would dance around in anyone’s head at that moment, looking at exactly the same place they shanked a crucial kick only moments before?

Most of us would have shame-vomited our way into intensive care long before. But Passaglia stepped up to the ball without hesitation. From the moment it left his foot, there was no question. He drained the kick, and BC won their fourth Grey Cup, the only time they’ve ever won the Cup at home.

It was only one of many important plays in Lui Passaglia’s long history, but in 2007, BC fans voted it the greatest play in franchise history. Who are we to disagree with them?

Why We Should Stand In Awe

No one in pro football has come close to Passaglia’s points total in the CFL or the NFL — no one comes close. And that points total is just a summary of a remarkable career.

There has simply never been a football player who has performed at such a high level for so long. Hell, most stadiums don’t look that good after 25 years. His career achievements might never be surpassed.


Thank you for reading. Support LWOS by following us on Twitter  –@LastWordOnSport – and “liking” our Facebook page.

Interested in writing for LWOS?  We are looking for enthusiastic, talented writers to join our Football writing team.  Visit our “Write for Us” page for very easy details in how you can get started today!

Football fans…check out our two partnered NFL podcasts – Thursday Night Tailgate Radio and Overtime Ireland.  Both shows bring you interesting commentary, critical analysis and fantastic guests including former and current NFL players, coaches and personalities.