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The CFL is a league of quirks, so maybe Zach Collaros’ season shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
But to see him in-person in Winnipeg on Wednesday, standing in front of the backdrop for his third team of the season, needing a win against his first team of the season to get to the Grey Cup, it hits home. This kind of thing doesn’t happen very often. Not even in this league. But…
“These things happen,” Collaros, proof of the statement, said to a large group of reporters after his team’s practice had wrapped up.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned in this league it’s that things change quickly.”
After this season, Collaros could give TED Talks on change.
He’s gone from the Riders’ Week 1 starter to the six-game injured list, to the Argos and then to the Bombers, landing in Winnipeg with a minute to spare on trade deadline day. When Chris Streveler hurt his foot on Oct. 19 against Calgary, Collaros’ redemption story was set in motion.
Collaros and the Bombers hope that this isn’t the final chapter, that there’s one more to be written after Sunday’s Western Final. He’ll have been a Bomber for 39 days when he’ll go back to where his season started, up against the Roughriders with a berth in the Grey Cup on the line.
Arguably the fiercest rivalry in the CFL, Sunday’s game will mark the first time that the Bombers and Riders have met in the Western Final since 1972.
His numbers weren’t overwhelming in the Bombers’ win over Calgary in the Western Semi Final — he made 11 of 21 passes for 193 yards — but he took care of a ball that was basically an oversized ice cube and made the big plays when he had to. His 71-yard touchdown pass to Darvin Adams early in the fourth quarter shifted the game in the Bombers’ favour, part of the team out-scoring Calgary 27-0 in the second half.
Streveler played a big part in that comfortable lead, rushing 13 times from behind centre for 82 yards and a touchdown. They’re a centaur-like pairing, with Streveler’s legs powering one half of the offence and Collaros’ arm providing the aerial attack.
“It makes it hard for defences, for sure,” Collaros said of their pairing.
“It allows your coaching staff to have even more plays to attack a defence, with the threat that Chris brings. I’m sure it makes life difficult for defensive coordinators. He really is a special talent, a really tough kid.”
Every once in a while in the seven to eight minutes he spoke with reporters on Wednesday, a reminder of Collaros’ newness in Winnipeg would pop up. He didn’t want to say what the win over Calgary meant to the franchise because, honestly, he wasn’t sure. He admitted that he’s still working on timing with his teammates and that cadences are improving by the day.
“That’s probably been the most difficult part is I’ve been different places with different cadences and we’re so hardwired to use those. Sometimes we get out there and I say something and everyone looks at me (strangely),” he said.
“That’s probably been the toughest part is the cadence thing. It’s so hardwired in my brain to use other things.”
Collaros generally tries to steer away from controversial topics in these settings. When he was traded to Toronto he didn’t want to go into great detail about what had happened in Saskatchewan, that the Riders were so confident in Fajardo that they could go all-in on him two months into the season.
Coming off of his first playoff win since the 2014 Eastern Final, Collaros admitted that there was something a little extra special for him in returning to Saskatchewan this week. His teammate, D-lineman Willie Jefferson, was more detailed in his assessment of it.
“It’s very special. It’s a big game for him,” he said.
“Me knowing Zach, I know he’s going to say he’s not worried about it. He’s going to be locked in and focused on what he has to do to win this game for the team.
“It’s not a me thing for him. It’s a we thing for us.”
As good as this chapter is in the Bombers story, it could get even better. If the Bombers and Tiger-Cats win their respective division Finals on Sunday, Collaros would get to face the team that helped him launch his career — and ultimately traded him two and a half years later — with a Grey Cup on the line.
Jefferson laughed as he thought about the possibilities for his quarterback.
“Only in the CFL can you start for a team at the beginning of the season, get traded and then get traded to the team that you played for in the Semi-Final last year.
“It can only be done in one league, in this league.”