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Former Lions, Roughriders kicker Paul McCallum gets Hall of Fame nod

VANCOUVER — Paul McCallum's voice caught in his throat as he recalled the moment he learned about his induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
B.C. Lions' Paul McCallum, right, kicks a field goal as Thomas DeMarco holds during the second half of a CFL football game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday August 5, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — Paul McCallum's voice caught in his throat as he recalled the moment he learned about his induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

It wasn't reflecting on his 24-season CFL career that brought on tears for the former kicker, but the timing of the call itself — the news came on the birthday of his late mother, Catherine.

"My mom was a huge supporter," he said, his voice still thick with emotion. "I'm just sad that she's not here to experience it and share it with me."

McCallum, 52, is one of five players whose inductions to the Hall of Fame were announced Tuesday. The 2022 class will be inducted at a ceremony in Hamilton on Sept. 16.

Hailing from Vancouver, McCallum started as a professional athlete as a soccer player in the United Kingdom. He returned to Canada and switched to football, playing for the Surrey Rams. He was one of the first junior players to be invited to a CFL evaluation camp and held down a job driving a HandyDART van while trying to land a spot with his hometown B.C. Lions.

"I had to change my shifts to drive so that I can make practice and things like that," he said. "So a lot of sacrifices when I was young and do what had to do but (it was a) long time ago. It seems like yesterday."

McCallum cracked the Lions' roster in 1993, kicking off a career that saw him suit up for B.C., the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders over 23 years. 

His accomplishments include the longest field goal in CFL history, a 63-yard kick he made while playing for the Roughriders in October 2001, and winning two Grey Cups with the Lions (2006 and 2011). 

McCallum's career saw lows, too, including an infamous 18-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide left during a playoff game against the Lions in November 2004. The miss was tough for Saskatchewan, who lost the game 27-25 in overtime while B.C. advanced to the Grey Cup. 

Some Riders fans took the loss out on McCallum, egging his home and dumping manure on a neighbour's driveway. 

"That 18-yard field goal had a huge impact on my life," McCallum said. "It triggered something in me, the determination." 

The kicker continued to play another 14 years, posting stunning numbers in the playoffs. He went 46 for 47 on field goal attempts in the post-season, with the lone miss ricocheting off the post in a 2011 contest. 

In March 2016, McCallum signed a one-day contract to retire as a Lion. He didn't hang up his pads for long, though, rejoining B.C. at the end of the 2016 campaign for a single regular-season game where he went four for four on field goals, including a 44-yard kick. 

He was 46 years old when he finally ended his football career, and credits two things with allowing him to stay in the game so long. 

"It was my determination to be competitive. And, secondly, flexibility. Because it's hard to touch my toes now," he said.

In order to keep that flexibility, McCallum started practising yoga in 2006. 

"I thought it would be more of a relaxing thing. And I had no idea how much strength you have to do to have to do that," he said. 

McCallum remains B.C.'s all-time leader in field goal percentage (85.9) and is second on the league list of all-time leading scorers (3,145 points). He earned CFL all-star selections in 2010 and 2011.  

During his playing days, the kicker said he wasn’t focused on personal rewards. To be honoured now means “a whole heck of a lot.”

“I've always done things hoping that it would be beneficial to the team,” said McCallum, who now works as a real estate agent. “But when I got the phone call and was sitting in the car and it kind of hit me. And then it was special in the fact that it was my mom's birthday.

“Just sitting back and reflecting and looking into the people that are in the Hall of Fame, it’s quite an honour to be considered at the same kind of level as these other players. That being said, there's still a lot of good players that aren't in. So it makes it that much more special.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press