By Mike Beamish
VANCOUVER — Adherence to accepted practice sometimes requires small course corrections. So attention, voting members of the Football Reporters of Canada: You might wish to reconsider amending a core value in the case of Anthony Calvillo, the Montreal Alouettes quarterback who is pro football’s all-time leading passer.
Consider, for example, the second half turnaround of the B.C. Lions and their quarterback, Travis Lulay, who, along with Calvillo, is one of eight players nominated for the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding player award.
The winner will be announced Nov. 24, during Grey Cup week, in Vancouver.
Suggesting that Lulay’s name would be mentioned in the same breath with Calvillo — a three-time CFL most outstanding player — as the best at his profession in Canada might have seemed ludicrous just three months ago.
For the past 10 games, however, Lulay has delivered status quo-chopping arguments that not only make him a contender for the crown being fitted for Calvillo at the halfway point of season, but his second half represents a triumph of statistical evidence over accepted ideology.
According to Steve Daniel, the CFL’s master sifter of statistics, Lulay has the CFL’s top passer rating over the past 10 games (107.7), during which he has tossed at least one touchdown pass in every game.
Since he was pulled Aug. 13 against Winnipeg, Lulay has thrown a total of 21 touchdown passes and been intercepted just three times.
Over that same period, Calvillo has thrown 19 touchdown passes, five interceptions and his passer rating is 94.9.
The strong argument for Calvillo is that he leads the CFL in passing yards and has been the better quarterback from start to finish. Lulay’s rating over his first seven games was 77.3, during which he threw seven TD passes and six interceptions.
On the other hand, Lulay has shown himself to be the better closer, with the Lions going 9-1 over his past 10 games. By comparison, Calvillo and the Alouettes are just 5-5.
Saturday’s game between the Alouettes and Lions at BC Place, in the final game of the regular season, would put added weight to Lulay’s candidacy, if B.C. should triumph and nail down first place in the West Division. A loss would confirm the Alouettes as the second-best team in the East, although that may already be determined by kickoff if Winnipeg defeats Calgary earlier in the day.
“It goes without saying that I’ve played better football in the second half than the first,” Lulay said Wednesday. “The football team has played better and allowed me to play better. As far as me being the best . . . honestly, it’s hard for me to comment on that in the middle of the season. I’m so focused elsewhere. I hate to sound wishy-washy. But, in the off-season, I’ll probably be able to give you a better answer.”
That’s OK, Lulay is not an individual numbers guy anyway — but he does remind us that the ultimate goal is to win. And since mid-August, he has done more it than any other CFL quarterback.
Coach Wally Buono’s decision to pull Lulay in the second half of a 30-17 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, dropping the Lions record to 1-6, stoked within him a competitive fire which has burned white hot since then.
“Looking back now, to that point in time, you don’t think about the long-term implications something like that can have,” Lulay said. “But I took it as a challenge, and it was, whether it was meant to be or not. On a personal level, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. Not that I wasn’t hungry to be better before, but I wanted to respond. Not just for myself, and my career, but for my teammates’ sake.”
This year’s MOP debate — which will likely come down to Calvillo or Lulay — is a subjective argument among those who regard the Alouette as the league’s most elegant player and others swayed by the Lion’s transforming qualities. It also raises an interesting side question: Was Calvillo even the most outstanding player on his team?
Alouette receiver Jamel Richardson leads the CFL in three categories — catches (110), touchdowns (11) and receiving yards (1,772) — and he became the first player to record 12, 100-yard games receiving in CFL history. But he didn’t make the MOP cut, according to the FRC’s Montreal chapter.
“It’s a chicken and the egg thing,” Buono said. “Which is more important? Allen Pitts was a 2,000-yard receiver (a CFL record 2,036 yards in 1994, with Calgary) but he didn’t get nominated that year. Doug Flutie was a 6,000-yard quarterback. They picked Doug. That was a tough decision there.”
Just as it will be this year, between Lulay and Calvillo.