O’Leary: Banter on players’ call gives a sampling of 2021

It was a spontaneous, passing moment that maybe in years past we wouldn’t think very much of after it’s over.

On Thursday, in a year where the losses have been stacked on top of each other, it was a window back to those days.

During the players’ media availability day, Cody Fajardo had hopped aboard a train of thought, taking a question about training methods through the pandemic and riding it into what he thought the 2021 season would look like.

“It’s going to be crazy to see the first couple games in the CFL next year,” the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ QB said.

“They’re going to be like playoff games, guys will be so excited to compete. You’re going to see that everyone’s giving all effort every single play and we’re going to be in Week 1. I think it’ll be very exciting for fans, for media, for everyone around the league to watch this great product.”

Over the Zoom call, you could almost see the lightbulb go off above Bo Levi Mitchell’s head.

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Stamps’ QB Bo Levi Mitchell enjoyed himself on his media day call with Cody Fajardo and Simoni Lawrence (Photo: The Canadian Press)

“If y’all thought Simoni talked a lot before, wait until that first game, he gets out there,” the Calgary Stampeders’ QB laughed.

Then Mitchell took the figurative mic and decided to run with it.

“Hey Simoni, let me ask you something,” he said to Simoni Lawrence, the longtime Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ linebacker, who, for the record was minding his own business and just enjoying seeing some familiar CFL faces.

“Every year you get voted best trash talker. So you have a lot of interaction with other players while trash talking, right? Who is the worst? Who comes up with absolutely the worst replies to you?”

In a moment that’s as rare as a double eclipse, Lawrence was at a loss for words.

“It’s got to be a quarterback because we are terrible at talking trash,” Mitchell said.

Fajardo laughed and nodded.

“I can’t say words,” he said.

“Honestly, no quarterbacks really ever talk back,” Lawrence said.

“I like messing with you but I just stay away from you because I know that…the gene you got in you. You’ve just got to know your person, really. Nobody really talks back like that.”

“When Mike runs and lowers that shoulder into you, he doesn’t talk sh*t after?” Mitchell asked, thinking of his friend and rival Mike Reilly.

Lawrence said that Reilly was workmanlike on the field and didn’t talk much.

“But you know who I loved?” Lawrence said. “That Streveler kid, that’s why I always loved playing against Streveler because he’s one of those guys that really loves football, he’ll take everything that comes with it. I’m talking ducking the shoulder and all that. Mike doesn’t say much. Mike gets paid, he just chills.”

It was about a 90-second random conversation where the three players on the call forgot about the 30 or so media members that were watching. They just started talking the way they might if they’d run into each other at an event during any other Grey Cup week. It felt nice to hear that banter again, to see the personalities of some of the top players in the league again. For that faint moment, the thousands of kilometres between us all vanished.

That feeling carried through the 45-minute media session. Listening to Fajardo, Lawrence and Mitchell talk about next year, about their teammates, even about what might have been this year was a reminder of what we’re usually doing at this time of year and what we could be doing a year from now. Some very important things have to fall into place for that to happen the way that everyone wants it to, but over the last week or so there has been genuine optimism on that front as opposed to quiet hope.

Lawrence has been in Hamilton since the 2012 season and he’s come to love the city and Ticats fans over the last eight years. He wants to be back on the field next year at this time, playing host to the Grey Cup, but you get the feeling he’d want to be there regardless of who’s playing in the game.

“I think if everything pulls through the way it’s supposed to, the 2021 Grey Cup in Hamilton will be legendary,” he said.

“It’s probably one of the funnest cities, low key cities that you’re going to have fun in and the fans are nuts.

“You get guys like Bo Levi, Cody Fajardo and all the stars come from around the league, you know, they might get attacked by a couple fans and stuff,” he laughed, “but it’s going to be a great time.

“A lot of small businesses in Hamilton would love to have it. The fans, just everybody in the area. We’ve got a lot of local suburbs outside of Hamilton as well that would all just partake and eat it all up. It’ll probably be one of the best Grey Cups in history.”

Thursday provided a moment of normalcy and let you wonder about what a week of it could feel like down the road.

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