From soccer boots in Surrey to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame

Paul McCallum grew up playing soccer and dreaming of a pro career, but ended up becoming a legend as a kicker in the Canadian Football League.

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The rain was pouring outside BC Place, and Doug Flutie, Mark Gastineau, and most of the BC Lions had long since departed. Inside, a young, fresh-faced pro soccer hopeful-turned HandyDart van driver was kicking field goals under the watchful eye of director of player personnel Bill Quinter.

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“Bill kept me afterwards and worked me out really hard. He had to drive me back to Surrey because the team left,” said Paul McCallum. “He told me on that drive back from BC Place that I had a lot of ability and talent, but because I was raw, I had to work at it. From there, I was determined. I had two years left of junior (football), so I was practicing with the Lions on my own time.”

Paul McCallum prior to a game in November, 2016.
Paul McCallum prior to a game in November, 2016. Photo by Gerry Kahrmann /PNG

He moved his HandyDart shifts around to make the practices work, broke through the barriers as a junior player with the Surrey Rams, and the right foot he had thought was going to make him a pro soccer player in Scotland turned out to be the golden boot that kickstarted a 23-year pro football career.

On Tuesday, the 52-year-old McCallum was named to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, alongside former coach Dave Ritchie, Vancouver Province columnist Ed Willes, and seven others. The 2022 class will be inducted at a ceremony in Hamilton on Sept. 16.

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McCallum greets fans prior to playing the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2016.
McCallum greets fans prior to playing the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2016. Photo by Gerry Kahrmann /PNG

McCallum’s career started in BC but meandered through Scotland, Saskatchewan and the XFL before ending with the Lions in 2016 when he was 46 years old.

The Surrey native, who holds the records for the longest field goal in CFL history (63 yards) and consecutive field goals made (30), was a two-time Gray Cup champion. Also a two-time CFL all-star, he was named the Most Valuable Canadian of the 2006 Gray Cup and won the 2011 Most Outstanding Special Teams Player award.

McCallum is the Leos’ all-time leader with a field goal percentage of 85.9, and second to Lui Passaglia amongst all-time Lions in the following categories: total points (1,506), successful field goals (348), punting yards (37,912) , and kickoff yards (28,700).

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“It was quite the journey,” he said. “It was a long time ago, but it seems like yesterday.”

McCallum holds his trophy after winning the CFL Most Outstanding Special Teams Player award in 2011.
McCallum holds his trophy after winning the CFL Most Outstanding Special Teams Player award in 2011. Photo by Andre Forget /QMI

McCallum was at a coffee shop working on June 1 when he received the call letting him know he had gotten into the Hall of Fame. It also happened to be the birthday of his mother, Catherine McCallum, who died of cancer at age 71 on June 14, 2015.

Remembering the moment he received the call, McCallum choked up and was at a loss for words for several moments before he managed to break through the waves of emotion.

“Wow, this hit me unexpectedly,” he said, his voice thick. “My mom was a huge supporter. It did hit me… but not like this. I’m just sad that she’s not here to experience it, and share it with me.”

While McCallum’s name is forever linked with the Lions, he was also a mainstay with the Roughriders (1994-95, 1996-2005). In 2004, while playing with Gang Green, he hooked an 18-yard field goal in the playoffs against BC, and the Riders lost 27-25 in OT. Fans dumped a load of manure on his neighbor’s driveway, egged his house on him, and threatened his wife on him.

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Two years later, he was suiting up for his hometown team after Riders GM Roy Shivers — who is also part of the 2022 Hall of Fame class — lowballed him with a contract that included a 30-per-cent pay cut, leading McCallum to bolt for BC

Paul McCallum? You have to be kidding me, ”the 80-year-old Shivers told Postmedia’s Murray McCormick, when he told them they were going into the Hall together.

“Do you think they can move me to another year?”

McCallum attempts a field goal against the Calgary Stampeders in 2014.
McCallum attempts a field goal against the Calgary Stampeders in 2014. Photo by Carmine Marinelli /Carmine Marinelli/QMI Agency

Shivers, the first Black general manager in professional football history, was joking — probably — and McCallum said they had long since buried the axe. Shivers started his 32-year coaching career with the Lions as an assistant coach in 1983, and he and McCallum were reunited in BC in 2011-14, with Shivers as the Lions’ director of player personnel.

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“We’ve talked about scenarios and everything else, but we never really sat down and chatted,” said McCallum. “I’m too old to worry about the type of things that happened back then. I’m sure Roy feels the same way because there are lots of things that have gone on in his life since then, and the same with mine.

McCallum spent time working in real estate before the pandemic, and with safety equipment supplier EFAS Safety after. But he did n’t spend a lot of time thinking about whether his career belonged in the Canadian Canton — Hamilton, Ont., where the Hall of Fame is located.

“It means a whole heck of a lot now,” he said. “I’ve never really been one for personal rewards. … So when people have asked me, ‘You’re not in the Hall of Fame?’ I’ve always said, ‘No, I’m not. That’s up for the people to decide. And I’m not really worried or concerned about it.’

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“But when I got the phone call and was sitting in the car, it kind of hit me. It was how special it was. Reflecting and looking into the people that are in the Hall of Fame, it’s quite an honor to be considered in the same kind of level as these other players. There’s a lot of good players that aren’t in, so that makes it that much more special.”

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