January 3, 2018

Ferguson: Collaros deal signals end of an era

Matt Smith/CFL.ca

Less than three years.

That’s how long Zach Collaros was quarterback of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

It feels longer doesn’t it? The ups and downs of Collaros’ time in the hammer were nothing short of spectacular as he rose to prominence, becoming the favoured son to carry Hamilton to the next level of CFL supremacy after winning the East division behind Henry Burris in 2013. Burris’ final game in black and gold was of course the Grey Cup against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

In a nine-team league, there are always going to be closely knit storylines and multiple tales of crossing paths, but the Riders’ relationship to Zach Collaros’ career can not be understated.

Burris suffering that Grey Cup blowout loss coupled with Collaros showing great promise in Argos blue planted the seed which led to Zach getting the Ticats quarterback reins when he signed with Hamilton in February of 2014.

» Riders acquire QB Zach Collaros
» Report: Ticats close to extensions with Masoli, Banks
» Nye: Collaros reaching ‘age of maturity’
» O’Leary: Plenty of parallels between Collaros, Reilly


In his first season with the Tiger-Cats, Collaros started in 13 of the 18 regular season games and helped lead the Tiger-Cats to a 9-9 record. Good for first place in the East Division that season.

He was explosive, aggressive and displayed a style of play perfect for the Canadian game with equal parts arm strength, pocket presence and escapability. Hamilton went all the way to the 102nd Grey Cup under Collaros only to lose on a late-game block in the back. You have to wonder, if that penalty flag doesn’t fly and Hamilton is crowned a champion, whether we’d be having this discussion today.

In 2015, Collaros was the best player in Canadian football, leading the Tiger-Cats to a record of 8-3 in dominant fashion. He was on track to start his second straight Grey Cup and avenge the previous year’s defeat when disaster struck while scrambling to his right side and trying to cut back left.


In a moment, the Tiger-Cats star quarterback was down on the ground with a lengthy rehabilitation waiting for him in the Tim Hortons Field tunnel and Hamilton’s feeling of promise, hope and destiny was suddenly gone. At the time of the injury, Collaros was leading the league in passing yards (3,376) and touchdown passes (25).

I called that game for TSN 1150 Hamilton. The second Collaros grabbed his knee and didn’t quickly pop up like Hamilton fans had seen so many times, it suddenly felt as though the game was being played in the Rockies. All available oxygen – and with it excitement – left the stadium.

Football is an unimaginably and unnecessarily cruel game. The injuries, the business side, all of it creates previously unimaginable scenarios.

That injury allowed Collaros’ then-backup Jeremiah Masoli to get what he simply hadn’t since joining the Canadian Football League: Experience.

That experience in the end of 2015 led Masoli and the Ticats to within a dropped interception and a miracle on Bank Street from a third Grey Cup in a row. Despite not making the big game, Masoli showed flashes of brilliance when an offence was designed around his strengths. A theme recreated by June Jones’ offence system in 2017.

Collaros’ injury in 2015 was what first opened the door for Jeremiah Masoli (The Canadian Press)

When Collaros wasn’t ready to go in 2016 training camp, Masoli carried the torch until Zach returned for his first home start against, you guessed it, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Zach went 23-of-30 for 381 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions in that game while then-Riders quarterback Darian Durant threw four interceptions in a 53-7 Ticats win. That game was the pinnacle of Hamilton’s 2016 season, but showed the type of explosion fans came to expect in 2015 and hoped for in 2017.

We all know what happened next.


Collaros benched.

Kent Austin replaced as head coach.

Collaros would not start another game in for Hamilton after a gut-kicking home loss to the Ottawa REDBLACKS in Week 9. A game in which he was pulled for the fourth quarter.

By all accounts, 2017 was Collaros’ worst season of his career. Not only did he not win a game, he also posted a career-low completion percentage (62.8%) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (8:7).

New head coach June Jones and anointed starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli built such a strong relationship while producing positive statistics and most importantly wins in the second half of 2017 that it made the Collaros-Riders trade more expected than not.

Collaros experienced the full bell curve of CFL stardom in Hamilton, from wonder kid to superstar, through injury to expendability. Yet he left an indelible mark on Hamilton football fans which makes today that much more confusing to Hamilton’s proud supporters.

Despite a forgettable ending, Zach Collaros left a strong mark on the Ticats (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

The same fans who screamed from the stands for Masoli to replace Zach in the summer of 2017 were the ones high-fiving and screaming Collaros’ praise from the stands in the summer of 2015.

Ironically, the trade to Saskatchewan involves the second round pick Saskatchewan acquired in trading away quarterback Darian Durant to Montreal last January. The man for whom many Riders fan adored in his No. 4 jersey — the number Collaros will assume come training camp, with many fans likely to get out the masking tape and sharpies before carefully giving their favourite green threads’ nameplate a temporary replacement.

Going into 2018 season, Collaros will be looking for his first win since Sept. 16 of 2016. In another example of Saskatchewan’s ties to Collaros’ career, that 0-13 streak began with a 20-18 loss to his new employers in Regina. Collaros has thrown 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions during that stretch. A number far below his career ratio average.

Zach leaves Hamilton as a fan favourite for his attitude, honesty and resolve to do whatever possible to win. It’s not often that a quarterback can be traded from anywhere in the CFL to Saskatchewan and maintain their loyal fans from a previous locale.

Collaros just might be able to do that if he starts in Saskatchewan for any game void of black and gold.