You could practically see the weight fall off Travis Lulay’s shoulders.
Standing on his home turf, in a mob of teammates, under a cloud of slowly falling orange and white confetti in Vancouver’s BC Place, he hoisted the Grey Cup and simultaneously discarded the burden of his football past.
It had been a long and winding road through the football world for the B.C. Lions’ 28-year-old quarterback. After leaving Montana State with an exceptional 123.7 quarterback rating in his final year, next came the physical and mental trials of NFL training camps.
Lulay was signed by the Seattle Seahawks in 2006, then released. Resigned by Seattle a year later and assigned to NFL Europe’s Berlin Thunder—the football equivalent of a transfer to Siberia—but waived after tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder. Called back to the NFL and with New Orleans in 2008, then waived once more. Back again to Seattle and… well, you get the idea.
“There were some tough times in there,” Lulay says of going through the NFL wringer, “where you don’t know exactly where you’ll be three months from now.”
“I think that really makes you appreciate the guys that have been there and done it for a long time.
“Coming into my second year as a starting professional quarterback, that’s not something I take lightly, because I’ve been the guy on the other side. On the outside looking in and trying desperately to find a way to get an opportunity. So I don’t take a second of that for granted.”
Skip forward to 2010. Having signed with B.C. the year before, Lulay was still at the bottom of the depth chart, looking on as Casey Printers and Jarious Jackson took the snaps, while he held a clipboard on the sidelines.
It’s trying times like these that test a player’s mettle. It’d be easy to say, the hell with it, this hill’s too steep, and move back home to Oregon.
But then the opportunity arose. The starter, Printers, got shelved with an injury, then upon his return he promptly imploded, allowing Lulay to finally wrestle away some semblance of a starter’s job.
Then, after playing out the string in 2010, by the start of 2011 he found himself at the helm of a Lions team mixed with hungry, young players and sage veterans like Geroy Simon.
But again, as if he were cursed, more struggles came as the team stumbled to an 0-5 start.
“For whatever reason we started slow, people started pressing a little bit. It took us a little bit to get out of that funk.”
Cue the concern. 0-5 starts don’t usually bode that well for starting quarterbacks. But just when things looked like they couldn’t be worse, the tides changed.
“We kept believing in ourselves… And once we started winning some football games, and got some confidence, we started playing really well towards the end of the year.”
And that’s an understatement. The Lions played exceptionally towards the end of the year winning 9 of their last 10, many of them blowouts, en route to the playoffs and a Grey Cup victory at home.
But in the wake of a season in which Lulay succeeded in nearly every possible way – a regular season Most Outstanding Player, Grey Cup win, and Grey Cup MVP – where does he go from here?
“Every year there seems to be some sort of new challenge,” he says. “We do have a handful of new faces on this team over years past. So we want to find our own identity.”
On the back of such a wildly successful season, one of the most difficult challenges becomes trying to avoid the added pressures as incumbent champions. Knowing the opposition is out there, putting a specific target on your back. It can be a heavy cross to bear.
But his years of being bounced around have toughened Lulay to pro-football’s unpredictability. He keeps an even keel.
“I think the pressure is high, but I don’t think it’s higher than it is in any given year. I’ve always put pretty high expectations on myself… So I don’t necessarily feel more pressure.”
With that in mind, he strives on. Living in the moment, and worried only about the challenge at hand. Unlike the past, his 2012 season awaits, with a burden lifted, abilities validated, and ready for a career full of new challenges.