O’Leary: Collaros scripts ending for the ages
He coolly sat there on Sunday night, championship garb overtop of his uniform and pads and Zach Collaros somehow seemed the same as he has been all season.
This step, the final one in Collaros’ 2019 journey, should have been the one that had the unflinching quarterback finally overcome with emotion, right? Some athletes sound delirious in championship victory. Others become open books, detailing every step of their arduous journey. Some are overcome with joy. Others cry.
Collaros seemed…happy. No more, no less.
Collaros was accurate again on Sunday night, making 17 of 23 passes for 170 yards in a game where the Bombers’ offence dominated the Ticats.
In the same way that the otherwise ravenous Hamilton Tiger-Cats defence couldn’t seem to figure out Collaros in the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw, reporters were left just as confused, if not more with Collaros’ reaction to the conclusion of a wild story.
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Has another high profile player in CFL history had the season that Zach Collaros just had? Traded three times, the final move coming as the final seconds of the trade deadline ticked away (that was 49 days ago, by the way). Injured and not playing in a game from the opening drive of Week 1 until a frigid Week 20 game in Calgary, oddly enough and winning out the rest of the way.
“What were they calling it? The revenge tour?” Collaros said when asked about these last few weeks being a comeback for him.
“We finished it,” he said dryly.
Technically, it was called the Zach Collaros Redemption Tour, 2019. And while Collaros might ho-hum it, it has in fact changed the direction of his football career.
Collaros had been plagued by injury since he tore his ACL in the 2015 season, derailing an MOP-worthy campaign. He’d come back and play in Hamilton, but things weren’t the same for him or the team. When they fell to 0-8 in 2017, new head coach June Jones went with Jeremiah Masoli at QB and Collaros was traded in January 2018 to Saskatchewan. Injured at the start of this season in Saskatchewan, the same fate met him again when the Riders went with Cody Fajardo.
A pit stop in Toronto gave way to Collaros going to Winnipeg at the deadline and put Collaros on the path to right all of the wrongs of his career. If you want to dig into it, every step of the tour involved some level of revenge. A Western Semi win over Calgary, who beat Collaros and the Ticats in the 2014 Grey Cup. The Western Final win over the Riders, then winning the Grey Cup that eluded him five years ago against the team that traded him.
If we told you this at the start of the season, it was put to Collaros, that this is where you’d go and how it would end, what would you have said?
“That’s cool,” Collaros said. “If you told me (it ends with) the Grey Cup? All right, let’s do it. I’ll do it.”
“It’s not about me. I mean, I know it’s crazy year for me personally, but those guys in that locker room have worked so hard for the last three, four years.
“Coach O’Shea got those guys ready. I can’t really put it into words. It’s a really special group. I’ve only been able to be around five or six weeks and I can see that. I’m so happy for these guys.”
It’s something that the Blue Bombers downplayed as the season inched forward, but Collaros’ fast fit with the team was remarkable. He had to learn a third offence, find chemistry with a third set of receivers, work with new o-linemen and coaches, on and on.
“We’re so thankful that we got him,” O’Shea said.
“He fit in so well, so quickly, which is, I don’t know that there’s many other guys that could do that.
“I look around the league and I don’t know if that would happen (with anyone else).”
After a less-than-stellar year in Saskatchewan in 2018 and the history of injuries, many had written Collaros off or saw the 31-year-old as a possible backup. In completing this improbable run, in helping a franchise end one of the longest Grey Cup droughts in CFL history as a starter, a new set of options should await Collaros. He goes into free agency this winter.
“(Collaros’) story should be written and told over and over again for a lot of years,” O’Shea said of his still-new, championship-winning quarterback.
“This is a fantastic story. It really is.”