The B.C. Lions have made a last-minute addition to the roster to help with the final push into the Canadian Football League (CFL) playoffs.
The player is 46 years old and hasn’t touched a football in months.
Celebrated kicker Paul McCallum has come out of retirement to attempt to win a third Grey Cup with his former team. McCallum, who started his football career playing for the Surrey Rams, went on to play a total of 23 CFL seasons, including 11 with the Leos, before retiring last March as the oldest active player in the league’s history.
The Surrey native is now seven months older and said the phone call from management asking him to suit up again came as a considerable surprise.
“I figured someone wants me to sign something,” said McCallum of the unexpected phone call from head office earlier this week. “I didn’t figure they’d be asking me that. I was very surprised but it just feels good to be back and kick some footballs and be around the guys.”
What isn’t much of a surprise is that Lions general manager/head coach Wally Buono would be looking for help given the struggles new kicker Richie Leone has had this season. Leone missed two converts and two field goal attempts — one from 30 yards and the other from 45 yards — in the team’s 24-6 win over Saskatchewan Roughriders last Saturday and has missed one-third of all the field goals he’s attempted this year. While Leone has a decent 49.3-yard punting average, he has only hit a worrisome 35-of-51 field goal attempts.
“We need to ensure that all areas of our kicking game are competitive with our opponents,” said Buono said in a prepared statement announcing the retiree’s rehire. “By bringing in Paul and his playoff production, this is now assured.”
McCallum made all 36 of his previous playoff field-goal attempts for the Lions, including a team-record six-for-six in the team’s 2006 Grey Cup win, and holds the CFL record for the longest field goal ever made at 62 yards. He also has the second-highest field goal total, behind only Lui Passaglai, and in his final season hit 38 of 42 field goals for a league-best 90.5 per cent success rate.
McCallum, who practiced with the team Tuesday afternoon at the team’s training facility in Whalley, said he has no hard feelings towards the 24-year-old who ultimately took his old job, despite his public bitterness after being asked to retire five days into the Lions training camp in June 2015.
“I’ve been friends with him ever since I left training camp. I’d watch every now and then to see what was going on and I’d send him a text every now and then if I thought I could help him out. It is unfortunate, but you go through that. He’s a punter and he’s learning how to kick and it’s just not an easy thing to do.”
McCallum went on to re-sign with the Roughriders, who he played for from 1996-2000, and made 29 of 36 field goal attempts before being deactivated for the final three games of the season. He then signed a one-day contract earlier this year and hung up his cleats as an official member of the BC Lions.
While his kicking expertise has been limited in recent months to passing around a soccer ball with his daughter, McCallum has kept limber through hot yoga and doesn’t expect his advanced age to be a liability on the field.
“I’ve been kicking since I was four so I figure I will be OK,” he said. “I feel pretty good so we’ll see what happens… When you get older and you don’t do as much, tweaks and things like that they happen quicker and easier and harder to get rid of but you just stay on top of them, which I’ve always done.”
The Lions (11-6 win-loss) host the Roughriders (5-12) again tomorrow (Saturday) and will cement second place in the West Division with a win or tie. The Lions could also secure second if the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-7) lose or tie Friday night against the Ottawa Redblacks, who have clinched first in the East Division.
McCallum, who estimates he is still accurate “within 50,” said he looks forward to contributing again if called on.
“Obviously, whatever my range is, I’ll kick those. If they need it longer, they’ll put him in. I’m enjoying it and happy to come back and hopefully help them get to the Grey Cup.”
The Western semifinal is Nov. 13.