Why Foley came back: ‘I owed the Lions something’

The irony was too delicious to ignore. It was déjà vu all over again, as Yogi might have said. Ricky Foley too.

A month short of seven years ago, Foley was supposed to make his return to the B.C. Lions after kicking the tires on his NFL prospects. He’d agreed to terms with Wally Buono, went on local radio from Toronto to express his elation over his decision. But on the way to the airport, as the story goes, he made a trip to visit Jim Barker and the Toronto Argonauts. Foley never came back.

That’s just how the longtime Canadian defensive end rolls, as he went from the Argos to Saskatchewan Roughriders and back to his hometown Argos again, because the events on the day marking his return to the Lions seven years later made such incredible sense there was only one way he ever could come back.

Sensing an opportunity to galvanize fans in the Lower Mainland in a way the Lions are unable, the Riders flew Foley out from Toronto last weekend to serve as a celebrity host for a rally at a downtown Vancouver nightclub prior to Saturday’s game at B.C. Place Stadium.

By the end of the night, however, Foley had ditched his Riders jersey, met with the Lions, taken a physical and agreed to terms on a contract even he admitted never seemed probable, given how he had so badly stiffed the team that drafted him all those years ago.

“That’s the CFL,” Foley said, addressing local reporters for the first time with a grin, ready to make a statement rather than answer questions when he opened with: “Welcome back.”

The truth had to surface eventually, however. Foley admitted that for several years while playing for the Argos and living for a time in the Lower Mainland, he talked with Buono about a possible return.

When Buono realized he wasn’t getting a pass rush with many of the 11 defensive linemen he took from training camp, he got serious. When DeQuin Evans was placed on the six-game injured list with a bulging back disc, he got forgetful.

Foley may have determined he would be a fit in Ottawa and there were last minute expressions of interest from Montreal too. Foley came back, however, because despite the fact he was out of work and about to embark on a real estate career, he remembered what he had done.

“I kind of felt I owed the Lions something,” said Foley, still wearing his Argos double-blue cleats.

“I talked to Wally… He said we’ve got some young guys and we’ll see what happens but stay ready. There’s a little bit of a storyline about finishing where you started. I feel comfortable out here. I’ve signed this time, so it’s official. I handled it better this time.”

Indeed the happiest Lions staffer wasn’t Buono but the team’s communications director, Jamie Cartmell. Moments prior to carefully announcing Foley had agreed to terms, rather than signed, the dean of CFL publicists put out a tweet asking for fingers to be collectively crossed (#PrayforSweetJimmyC) so as to avoid a repeat of what arguably was the most difficult public relations mess of his tenure.

Time has indeed healed old wounds with the 35-year-old and the Lions fans base, even though Foley may have given the best years of his career to other clubs.

Now it remains to be seen what the oldest player on the roster has left that would help a team that sometimes doesn’t look as if it has had a menacing pass rush since he left.

Foley knows his new job as a rotational rusher is as much about creating quarterback pressure as it is to help nurture the Lions non-import defensive line talent.

It took only a smattering of gifts to coerce his old number (95) off the back of rookie Junior Luke. But with the Evans injury. relative inexperience of import Josh Shirley and the fact else nobody has claimed the job, Foley is already almost in a position to indeed effectively recreate the past.

“I know why I’m here,” said Foley. “The time will come when October rolls around and the young guys look (at me) like I did, when you’re lining up alongside Brent Johnson, Tyrone Williams and Carl Kidd and do your thing when you know the whole world is not on your shoulders.”

Perhaps, but the Lions would also prefer to be known not as an outfit that can only compete with non-playoff teams and East Division opponents but one that can eventually look the two clubs in Alberta eye to eye.

“You see the way the league is going,” he said. “There’s kind of a couple of teams at the top right now and a few other teams trying to figure out who wants to go chase them. It’s like a cycling race, you know? Two teams kind of broke away from the pack. You can sense this team, with the way the offence is, has a chance to chase them.”

At long last though, the Lions have stopped chasing Foley.

LIONS TALES: B.C. had to make eight changes before lining up against Saskatchewan last week and appear as if they could be making a few more prior to Sunday’s rematch in Regina, not the least of which is to replace ailing Travis Lulay with Jon Jennings at quarterback. Lulay made it through Saturday after taking a shot from Willie Jefferson, but has developed abdomen bruising in the days since. DB Anthony Gaitor (quad) and OL Cody Husband (concussion) were also out to start the practice week. Veteran OL Andrew Jones, who had been coaching junior football in Edmonton two weeks ago, was with the starters Wednesday when the Lions couldn’t coerce Dillon Guy off the Riders’ practice roster and Charles Vaillancourt moved over to take Husband’s spot.

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.