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Bad miss made McCallum better

CFL's best kicker since infamous 2004 blunder

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VANCOUVER -- The West final will mark a unique anniversary for Paul McCallum.

Playing for Saskatchewan in the 2004 West Final, the veteran kicker missed an 18-yard field goal attempt that would have given the Roughriders a berth in the Grey Cup. Instead, the host B.C. Lions prevailed and went on to win the title.

McCallum was subsequently disowned by Rider fans and, after one more season in Regina, ended up moving back to the Lions, the team with which he had begun his unlikely CFL career.

The miss could have destroyed McCallum's career. Instead, it made him better.

"I wanted it not to define me," McCallum said Saturday after his club's final walkthrough at BC Place Stadium. "I made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes, and I didn't want to be known for that mistake. You can come back and make a positive out of a negative. I think I've done that."

There is little doubt he has.

Heading into today's contest against the Calgary Stampeders, he has made 39 of the 40 field goals he has attempted in the playoffs (semifinals, division finals and Grey Cup included) since 2006. His only miss came in last year's Grey Cup, which the Lions won anyway, over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

"I'm pretty proud of that, but my career's not over, so I just want to keep going," he said.

This season, McCallum has adjusted to a new holder in backup quarterback Mike Reilly and snapper in Angus Reid on field goals. They replaced former backup signal-caller Jarious Jackson, who was released and signed with Toronto in the off-season, and Dan McCulloch, who retired.

After some struggles adjusting to the newcomers, he established the same high level of trust and comfort that he felt with his former battery mates in a process that lasts a few seconds. McCallum finished the regular season with 44 field goals -- the highest total in the league -- off 52 attempts.

His punts averaged 41.2 yards and his kickoffs travelled an average of 56.5.

The field goal stats were down slightly from 2011, when he connected on 50-of-53 attempts.

But the results defied the fact that at age 42, the Surrey, B.C., product is the oldest player in the CFL.

"To me, I don't think age is an issue as far as I'm still here at that age," he said. "It's the fact that I'm still producing at that age."

According to Don Sweet, a CFL legend with the Montreal Alouettes who now tutors McCallum, the B.C. veteran's success has nothing to do with age. It's all about how smoothly he swings his leg, rhythm, tempo, and the ability to cast aside "voices" in his head that lead to extra pressure and distractions.

"You have to have ice in your veins," said Sweet, when asked what it takes to be a good kicker.

He rates McCallum as the CFL's all-time best, or at least on par with Lions legend Lui Passaglia, who played 25 seasons.

As a divorced father of two girls aged 11 and 13, McCallum, who is also a residential real estate agent, could face plenty of distraction on and off the field. He attributes his strong focus to positive thinking and his thirst for pressure-packed situations.

"I just think it's kind of your personality, your nature, your demeanour and things like that," said McCallum, adding he does not need to block anything out.

"It's just something that I enjoy. I don't feel the same kind of pressure that, maybe, somebody else does."

With the 2004 miss having made him stronger and better, McCallum is not fazed by the possibility of being called in during the dying moments of today's game to attempt a field goal necessary to keep the Lions' hopes of a second consecutive Grey Cup alive.

"I try and approach them all the same way," he said. "I've gotta make them all."


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 18, 2012 B5

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