American Catholic Finds Success Playing Football in Canada
B.C. Lions’ Travis Lulay’s career includes Grey Cup and MVP award.
Like many American boys, Travis Lulay grew up dreaming of playing in the National Football League. However, the Stayton, Oregon, native’s sights also included the Canadian Football League (CFL).
As things turned out, Lulay played in both leagues. After an outstanding career at Montana State University that included 10,724 passing yards and 58 touchdown passes — not to mention a 3.91 GPA — he had an excellent showing at the 2006 NFL Combine. The 6-foot, 2-inch quarterback was eventually signed by the Seattle Seahawks and later spent time with the New Orleans Saints and NFL Europe’s Berlin Thunder.
Because Lulay thought the CFL would bring more stability to his family, he decided to head north. He found the community he was looking for — and professional success. His decade playing for the B.C. Lions ended with 127 touchdown passes and 21,352 passing yards. He also led the Lions to a 2011 victory in the Grey Cup (the CFL’s equivalent of the Super Bowl), receiving the MVP award for that game and the overall honor of being the CFL’s “Most Outstanding Player.”
After retiring from playing football earlier this year, Lulay is now in the B.C. Lions’ office in a corporate partnerships and community relations role. He also does television commentary for CFL games and speaks at Catholic events — and his family remains stably in the same community they have been in since 2009. He spoke of this and other things heading into the culmination of this year’s CFL playoffs — the Grey Cup — which takes place on Nov. 24.
What do you think of the CFL season and the NFL season so far?
I was able to be a part of some great games with the Lions — especially in 2011 — but this year wasn’t our year. The boys had a tough time and finished at the bottom of the standings. However, I am enjoying doing some broadcast commentary for the playoffs.
With the NFL, things are far enough along to get some kind of a possible playoff picture. It’s hard to imagine the Patriots being out of the playoffs in one way or another, although it was good to see the Ravens beat them recently. The 49ers were a surprise with an undefeated record, which the Seahawks just put an end to on Monday [Nov. 11].
What an awesome game that was. Rarely does a highly-anticipated matchup live up to its billing, but that game sure did. It was a classic case of never-say-die, as both teams looked like they had the game wrapped up on more than one occasion. I’m sure 49er fans were bummed with the final result, but that type of game is good for the average sports fan — and the Seahawks winning it makes the NFC West race more interesting down the stretch.
Is the game any different in the CFL versus the NFL or is the response to it different from fans?
It is the same game of football, with throwing, catching, running, blocking and tackling, but there are some different rules in the CFL. A few examples are having 12 players instead of 11, three downs instead of four, and 110 yards on a field instead of 100.
As for the response from fans, there’s CFL interest not only in Canada but also in the U.S., since about half the players are American. We do get a good amount of fan interest, but we end the CFL playoffs in late November and let hockey, the top Canadian sport, take over from there.
When you were growing up, did you ever imagine you’d be playing in the CFL?
For American kids playing football, the standard dream is to play in the NFL one day, but I had a little more exposure to the CFL than most kids. We had a satellite dish and got CFL games, and I remember thinking the Canadian version of football would be a neat way to play.
Then when I played at Montana State, the QB who had played just before me went off to the CFL, and I followed his pro career. By the time I left college, I was considering the CFL, but played a few years on NFL practice squads and in NFL Europe, before finally going up north. By that time I was married and wanted to have some semblance of stability by remaining in the same community, which was more possible in the CFL.
Do you know Kellen Clemens, another Catholic QB from Oregon?
Kellen was a year ahead of me in high school and then went to the University of Oregon, while Derek Anderson was the QB at Oregon State University. That meant neither of the two big Oregon schools were looking for QBs when I was a senior, so I went to Montana State.
Kellen redshirted a year at Oregon, so we were part of the same NFL Draft class in 2006. We chatted a little at the combine, and I followed his career after that. My wife’s roommate at Western Oregon University knew Kellen from high school, so that’s another indirect connection we had.
Were you always able to connect faith and football?
I went through 12 years of Catholic school, so faith was always connected to football. In high school we would pray the St. Michael Prayer from Pope Leo XIII and read Scripture before games, taking out an inspirational verse and thinking about that. That would help me, not only to play better, but also to realize how insignificant football is.
I was taught that our talents are gifts from God, and what we do with our talents is our gift back to God. On the one hand, we should try to excel as best we can, but, paradoxically, something that can help us do that is to realize that football or whatever else we might be doing will not last forever. If we see the fleeting nature of things, we won’t be as easily tempted to make them into idols, and that tempered view of them will actually help us to work better with them, making our gift to God pleasing to him.
Do you see a parallel with football and faith when it comes to discipline?
No question. In both football and faith, there are certain things expected from us. We may not feel like doing those things on a given day, but if we want the end result to come out right, we better get past feelings and into doing the right things.
There’s also the community aspect of football, with a clear hierarchical structure. Each person is responsible for certain things and not others. When each individual on the team knows the limits of his domain, the whole team functions well as one unit. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of on the field or in the family of faith.
Do you appreciate your parents passing on the faith to you?
That’s the greatest gift they’ve given me, even greater than natural life, which comes to an end. Active faith is supernatural life, so there’s no end to it. That’s the whole perspective thing again: Football is not who I am; it’s something I do. That can be said about anyone’s job, which leads us to thinking about our deepest identity as members of the Body of Christ.
I only have one brother, but consider myself to be part of a large family since we would always have aunts, uncles and cousins over for birthdays, Christmas and Easter. It was like they were part of our immediate family. It’s not exactly that way for us now in Blaine, Washington [just south of the Canadian border], but it’s something I carry with me and something that is here, to a degree, in our faith community.
We go to a parish that always has the flame of faith lighted, even when Masses are not being offered. There’s a 24-hour adoration chapel that draws those seeking the Lord any day of the week. We could almost camp out at the parish if we wanted to.
That would be preferable to camping out at the office, like some football coaches do.
Some coaches and players see working double overtime as a badge of honor, like I used to. However, it’s more likely to be indicative of not being efficient enough to do your job in a timely manner. It can also indicate not having the right priorities, which means faith and family end up languishing for the sake of football.
I used to watch hours and hours of video on upcoming opponents, and I know a coach who even placed a cot in his office so he could sleep there. He missed his son’s soccer games and had no life to speak of outside of his job. That type of setup is ironically self-defeating, even if you only look at it from a “What’s best for football?” perspective.
There’s a law of diminishing returns, so that it’s only good to use a certain amount of time on a given activity. After that time, fatigue sets in, and it’s quite possible that bad decisions made will require taking even more time to fix in the future.
You sound like former Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coach Mark Duffner.
I’ve noticed a trend in coaching back toward a more reasonable schedule that helps teams focus on the basics and do those well. When I spent too much time in preparation I would overcomplicate things, thinking of all kinds of unimportant details. Then I started to refocus on why I was on the field to begin with, a transition that was marked by better results.
Have you found prayer to be vital in living a Christin life?
Prayer helps us to incorporate the reality of Jesus Christ into our daily lives. It’s something that should be a daily routine for every Christian, since it’s the way to get the grace needed to live Christian lives. Said in another way, prayer helps us to overcome the seemingly endless temptations of the world and puts us into a better relationship with God the Father.
I make sure to pray every day, and it’s something I’ve done, not only before and after practices and games, but during them, as well. It might sound funny, but I remember saying Our Fathers and Hail Marys during wind sprints and other activities in order to distract myself from the pain.
With that said, my wife is more diligent about praying the Rosary than I am, but that’s what Advent and Lent are for: taking things like the Rosary more seriously. Advent is almost here, so maybe that will be when I get the Rosary down as a daily thing.
It has been said by Pope Pius XII that the best way to call down God’s blessings upon a family is through the daily recitation of the Rosary.
Those blessings sure are needed today, more than ever. My wife and I try to equip our three kids with persistent prayer, solid thinking, reasonable media usage and a sacramental life so that when they are out on their own, they won’t be taken down the paths that lead away from God.
One of my favorite media sources is Catholic Answers. I often listen to Catholic Answers Live in my car, and I have books by Catholic Answers apologists Jimmy Akin, Trent Horn and Tim Staples that I have to read. One of the best books I’ve already read is by Scott Hahn and is called Rome Sweet Home.
Back in Oregon, my father and brother helped to organize a three-day conference with radio host, author and speaker Jon Leonetti at Immaculate Conception in Stayton. Those types of things are wonderful to be a part of, and I will likely be talking at a men’s conference up here in the near future. The battle for good is on, so I enjoy helping men be an active part of that.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book, Fit for Heaven (available from Dynamic Catholic),
contains numerous Catholic sports interviews, most of which
have appeared in the Register.