For six years, quarterback Mike Reilly was a hero in Edmonton, guiding the Eskimos to a 2015 championship and racking up impressive numbers through the air and on the ground.
Now behind center for the BC Lions – his second stint with the Vancouver-based Canadian Football League team – Reilly gets to go from “baby face” to “heel” on Friday when he visits Commonwealth Stadium.
“I spent six great years in Edmonton and enjoyed every minute I was there, through ups and downs and a lot of life-changing experiences both on and off the field,” Reilly said during a conference call on Wednesday. “Obviously on the football field, winning a Grey Cup and a (Most Outstanding Player award) and being part of six different teams, because it truly is a different team every single year.
“Then the off the field changes, being married prior to the 2015 season and then having both my daughters born in Edmonton during the 2016 and 2018 seasons.”
If you follow the Canadian Football League as I do, you know that many of its top-tier quarterbacks – not just journeymen –tend to get around.
For example, Damon Allen, who had an incredible 23-year run in the CFL, threw for 72,381 yards and 394 touchdowns while rushing for 11,920 yards and 93 scores. He played for six different teams (he had two tours of duty with Edmonton and was also behind center for the Ottawa Rough Riders, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Memphis Mad Dogs, BC Lions and Toronto Argonauts).
Anthony Calvillo recorded league bests in passing yards (79,816), touchdowns (455), completions (5,892) and 300-yard games (125) in a 20-year CFL career that saw him play for the Las Vegas Posse, Hamilton and Montreal Alouettes.
I actually saw him live when he quarterbacked against Matt Dunigan and the Birmingham Barracudas at Legion Field back in 1995, obviously having no idea he’d become a legend north of the border.
And Doug Flutie racked up more than 41,000 passing yards and 270 touchdowns while playing for BC, the Calgary Stampeders and Toronto over eight seasons.
Shoot, Kevin Glenn had his rights held by every CFL team before retiring on June 12 with 52,867 passing yards and 294 scores.
There are many more examples, of course; the list of accomplished quarterbacks is a long one that includes several guys who have changed uniforms while setting records at every stop. Now it’s Reilly’s turn.
The 6-3, 230-pound quarterback started his CFL career with BC in 2011 before spending 2013-18 with Edmonton. A free agent at the end of the 2018 campaign, he chose to return to his original club thanks in large part to a four-year, $2.9 million contract.
“It’s more of doing what’s right for you and your family,” Reilly said. “I didn’t feel like there were negatives with either team on the football side of things.”
In six seasons with the Eskimos – including one that ended with a Grey Cup title – Reilly threw for 26,929 yards and 143 TDs and added 3,040 rushing yards and 45 more touchdowns in 94 starts.
“I do feel like I became the player I am now because of my time in Edmonton,” Reilly said.
Going into Friday’s game against his old team, the former Central Washington player has passed for 27,949 yards and 149 touchdowns in Canada.
At age 34 and just two seasons removed from a MOP Award, the Kennewick, Washington, native has already secured his CFL legacy. But last week he was 22 of 39 for 324 yards and a touchdown in BC’s 33-23 loss to Winnipeg, and wants his homecoming to be much happier for him and BC than the hosts.
Edmonton opened its season with a 32-25 victory over Montreal.
“I’m excited to go back again,” he said. “There’s a lot of great memories as a home field starter at Commonwealth Stadium and hopefully as a visiting player now. I still have a lot of great close friends on the coaching staff and on the roster.”
But like the outstanding QBs who came before him, Reilly will now try to continue his success at the expense of fans who once cheered him on.
It’s nothing personal – just business. And if a player hangs around long enough in the CFL, he’ll experience both sides of the baby face/heel coin.
“I’m sure (the reception) will be mixed in the sense that a lot of the fan base knows it was a great opportunity for me to come here, but at the same time there’s always going to be that animosity for leaving a team,” Reilly said. “And I get that … I totally understand it. They have a great fan base there and I had the privilege of playing there more than 100 games. I expect them to support their team and that always makes it tough on the opposing team.
“Once the ball’s kicked off, I’m the enemy at that point.”