LU­LAY’S BEEN AROUND ENOUGH TO KNOW IT’S NOW OR NEVER

He’s won a Cup and suf­fered in­jury dis­as­ter, so vet­eran QB un­der­stands op­por­tu­nity

Vancouver Sun - - SPORTS - ED WILLES ewil­les@post­media.com

In 2011, his first full sea­son as the B.C. Li­ons’ start­ing quar­ter­back, Travis Lu­lay led his team to a Grey Cup vic­tory while be­ing named the CFL’s most out­stand­ing player.

The next sea­son, he had an even bet­ter year sta­tis­ti­cally be­fore the Li­ons lost the West Divi­sion Fi­nal. He was back in 2013, re­turn­ing from an in­jury and play­ing his heart out in a crush­ing 29-25 loss to the Roughrid­ers in Regina in the West semi­fi­nal.

That game also marked his last start in the play­offs.

“Thanks for re­mind­ing me,” Lu­lay said Fri­day.

But this is also what he re­minds his team­mates.

Lu­lay’s ca­reer, which seemed des­tined for the Hall of Fame, has been bro­ken by a se­ries of cat­a­clysmic in­juries.

There have been two ma­jor surg­eries, one im­me­di­ately af­ter that play­off game in 2013.

There have been two other in­juries that knocked him out for sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of his sea­son. But this year, he and his team­mates have been pre­sented with an op­por­tu­nity to win a cham­pi­onship, an op­por­tu­nity they must cher­ish.

You hear it ev­ery­where this time of year, the vet­eran try­ing to im­press on younger play­ers that they have to seize this mo­ment be­cause they’ll never know what to­mor­row brings. You hear it so of­ten, in fact, it has the empty sound of a cliché.

But when Lu­lay talks about his story, it car­ries mean­ing.

The Li­ons might not win Sun­day’s cross­over play­off game against the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats and there are 100 dif­fer­ent vari­ables that will de­cide that con­test. But it won’t be lost be­cause they’re tak­ing it for granted.

“Talk­ing to younger play­ers, you don’t know when or how of­ten you’re go­ing to get this op­por­tu­nity,” Lu­lay said. “You just never know in this game. You can get hurt or you miss the play­offs or you get traded or what­ever hap­pens.

“But we’re here right now and that’s all that mat­ters. I mean, we’re guar­an­teed one more game as this group. That’s all we’re guar­an­teed.

“There is a fi­nal­ity to that and there’s a chance to leave a mark. And you do that by mak­ing a spe­cial run.”

Fri­day, the Li­ons held a brief prac­tice at McMaster Univer­sity and if you didn’t know it was the CFL play­offs by the cal­en­dar, you knew if by the weather in Steel­town. It was snow­ing up on the es­carp­ment. Down be­low, where the Li­ons worked out, there was a dull, cold rain and tem­per­a­tures flirted just over zero.

Af­ter­ward, head coach Wally Buono said it was im­por­tant to pre­pare in the el­e­ments and Sun­day’s game fig­ures to be played in sim­i­lar con­di­tions. But there’s an­other kind of prepa­ra­tion in­volved for a play­off game in a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment and, as they ready for the con­test, the Li­ons find them­selves look­ing at a cou­ple of vet­er­ans who know what this game means.

Solomon Elim­imian was an­other mem­ber of the Li­ons’ 2011 Grey Cup team.

Since that year, the Li­ons’ linebacker has won two de­fen­sive player of the year hon­ours and was named the CFL’s most out­stand­ing player in 2014.

Un­for­tu­nately, he’s had more ma­jor awards in those years — three — than the Li­ons had play­off vic­to­ries — one, the 2016 West semi­fi­nal in which Jonathon Jen­nings was the start­ing quar­ter­back.

On Fri­day, Elim­imian ad­dressed his team­mates, just as vet­er­ans Brent John­son and An­gus Reid ad­dressed the Li­ons in 2011. Their mes­sage back then: We’ve squan­dered a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties dur­ing our time here, let’s not waste this one.

Guess what Elim­imian’s mes­sage was in 2018?

“We won a Grey Cup in 2011,” Elim­imian said. “It’s 2018 and we haven’t been back since.

“You can’t com­pare the in­di­vid­ual awards to what the Grey Cup means. It’s the best feel­ing in the world and it’s some­thing

all 46-plus guys can share to­gether. That’s what I want to em­pha­size to the guys. We can do some­thing that no one can take away from you.”

OK, it would help if this was 2011 and the Li­ons were call­ing on a 28-year-old Lu­lay and a 25-year-old Elim­imian to lead the charge. But the re­al­ity in 2018 is some­thing dif­fer­ent.

Lu­lay is now 35 and is com­ing off two woe­ful out­ings head­ing into the post-sea­son. Elim­imian hasn’t played since suf­fer­ing a wrist in­jury in mid-July and will be mak­ing his first start in 14 games.

There’s a pos­si­bil­ity, fur­ther­more, that nei­ther player will be back with the Li­ons next sea­son. Both make, by CFL stan­dards, big coin. Both have a his­tory of in­juries. As Lu­lay says: “You never know in this game.”

But they know one thing. They have this mo­ment with their team­mates and an op­por­tu­nity in front of them. That is a real thing, some­thing they can reach out and touch, and it is rare and won­der­ful.

Wher­ever they go from there, is im­ma­te­rial. The only thing that mat­ters is where they go Sun­day.

“I’ve been around long enough to know you just don’t do it ev­ery year,” Lu­lay said. “So of­ten as a younger player you think, there’s next year and we’ll be bet­ter next year. That isn’t al­ways the case.

“I know Kevin Glenn’s been in this league for 18 years.”

And still hasn’t won a Grey Cup. He, too, knows what the play­offs mean.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

“We’re guar­an­teed one more game as this group,” QB Travis Lu­lay says of Sun­day’s East semi­fi­nal. “That’s all we’re guar­an­teed.”

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