Why Paul McCallum is back kicking for the B.C. Lions

It wasn’t the idea he could kick at home that brought him back. It wasn’t the thought he might help another team win a Grey Cup. Paul McCallum had done that before. In 23 CFL seasons, he’d pretty much done it all.

There’s no logical explanation as to why a 46-year-old who had made the transition into real life would want to kick field goals again for the B.C. Lions, especially when they had shown him the door only a year ago.

So why did he take their call the day after he was in Regina to usher out Mosaic Stadium and watched Richie Leone implode again when trying to maintain his position as successor?

It’s the same reason why many great athletes come back. McCallum said he wanted to end his career on his own terms, and so Saturday will try to kick a short field goal or two if asked against the Saskatchewan Roughriders and take part in his 24th CFL season.

Only legendary Winnipeg punter Bob Cameron, who stopped kicking after his 23rd CFL season and 48th birthday, was older when he left three-down football. Even Lui Passaglia stopped five months earlier than McCallum after the Lions won the 2000 Grey Cup.

McCallum said he had players young and old, like veteran Brent Johnson and much younger Riders kicker Tyler Crapigna, in his thoughts when he agreed to bail out the Lions this week.

“Brent Johnson ended (his career) at home,” McCallum recalled. “To be honest I was brought into Saskatchewan last year. I was doing fine and they (brought in) the young kid and said ‘just don’t come back.’ I’m thinking, how’s that going to help him? There’s no competition. That’s the same thing that happened (in B.C.)

“I’d never gone out the way I wanted, but I’d been playing so long I didn’t care. Very seldom players retire and go back. This year I want to win a Grey Cup.”

At 46, there’s considerable reason to believe there isn’t much left in the kicking leg of McCallum, starting with the fact he hadn’t so much as even looked at a football this year. He’d been to a couple of Lions home games, including one not long after signing his retirement papers, and was given a proper send-off.

When Lions personnel director Neil McEvoy called him on behalf of coach/GM Wally Buono Sunday night, McCallum thought the call had something to do with his day job as a real estate agent, or his new venture, as a franchise owner of a yoga studio chain. He’d moved on, or so he thought.

Instead, he’ll try to see if he can improve on hitting the chip shots he was asked to make Tuesday in his first practice in more than a year. And he’ll do so for every weekend warrior who thought they lost their previous job improperly, just as when McCallum was told at training camp that Leone was replacing him and was given the option of retirement or being cut.

McCallum and Buono had their share of contract squabbles in the past. Nothing even remotely close this time.

“Why not?” he said when asked why even bother to continue with his career legacy already established. “If you were doing something your whole life and you really enjoyed it and the only thing stopping you was your age, why not? Maybe if there’s some 40-plus guy sitting on his couch and doesn’t feel like he can do anything; get off the couch. I still feel good.”

The other good part is that McCallum and Leone had kept in touch since the transition occurred before last season, and there’s no ill feelings in what could easily be an awkward reunion.

“We’re lucky he’s down the street and we can get one of the best ones of all time and help win a Grey Cup,” said Leone, a free agent after the season who quite possibly will explore his NFL options a third time. “Wally knows what he’s doing.”

Perhaps, though if a real plan was in existence the Lions would have had another kicker on a roster. But McCallum had been around the club as recently as the summer, when he spoke to veterans about retirement. Now he’s sharing a locker again. The thought of once again wearing a uniform, maybe even asked to tackle an opposing ball carrier, trumped all.


Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.