BCLions.com, Geoff Robins/CFL.ca
The relationship between the starting quarterback and the back-up usually falls into one of four categories.
- The proven starter and the rarely seen back-up. Think all those peak Anthony Calvillo years.
- The mentor-mentee. So many examples of this in the game. The end is either the mentee taking over for the mentor or going free to pursue their dreams after a couple apprenticeship years. Think Bo Levi Mitchell and Jake Maier and the past two years in Calgary.
- The treasure trove of talent roster. Now is a rare one where the starting quarterback is great, but you just know several of the understudies could start for many organizations. Did I bring this one up just to highlight that the 2013 Toronto Argonauts had Ricky Ray as the starter and Zach Collaros and Trevor Harris waiting in the wings? Yes, yes, I did. Still wild to look at that roster.
- The classic combustible, contemptuous relationship. Both individuals believe they should be the starter, one is always shocked they’re not on the field while the other is paranoid about losing their starting job at the next incompletion. Teams are way better now at keeping this one under wraps because there is nothing better in the sports debate world than a good quarterback controversy.
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Then there’s what’s happening on the West Coast that feels completely different. How would you describe the burgeoning ecosystem between the BC Lions’ starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and the backup, Dane Evans?
My first thought was to go with ‘The Odd Couple’. Their careers have been spent on rival teams; Evans is around two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier; Dane has done more winning but Adams, it can be argued has the higher upside and does have one All-Star team on his resume.
So, do you go full “Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison” with Dane and Vernon? I say no for two reasons, the first being I will alienate 90 per cent of the readers who probably won’t get that musty reference. The main reason is there is no animosity between these two former rivals. In fact, going into the 2023 season, they sound like the model of stability.
Upon signing with the Lions, Evans went out of his way to wipe out even the slightest sniff of a quarterback soap opera. He reiterated during his first media session that the Lions were VA’s team. Evans hammered home the theme of being thankful and honoured to be a part of this organization while recounting how both quarterbacks reached out to one another soon after the signing was official.
I understand how anyone reading this can accuse me of being naïve, that in the hyper competitive world of professional football there is always an element of cutthroat and Dane is just biding his time before staging a palace coup. I get it.
However, I look at the journeys of both these quarterbacks and see two competitors looking to bury their respective pasts by winning it all. Both men have a lot to prove and both have their professional scars that can often feel personal.
“It was definitely bittersweet because I’ve been there for seven years and it’s like a second home almost,” was the quote from Adams soon after being traded by Montreal to the Lions. Yes, Adams has not fully lived up to the promise we all saw in 2019. Injuries and his own inconsistency are a big part of his decline in production but getting benched in Week 2 of the 2022 season had to sting for the 29-year-old.
As for Evans, he has no wish to revisit his final days with Hamilton saying, “I’m not really going to speak on the past and how it went down because I’m not even a Ticat anymore. I really don’t care what those guys do now and that’s kind of been my mindset for a little bit.”
That is the right mindset to have. His focus is on 2023 but those words also speak to a person who felt hurt by how things ended in Hamilton.
I’m going to steal from my editors who brought up a different famous TV couple, Bert and Ernie. They got along great and were there for each other no matter what the predicament. Of course for them it was usually about cleaning up rather than avoiding Lorenzo Mauldin IV, but you get the idea.
So let me add a fifth quarterback relation category: The true partnership.
Both players are after the one thing that has eluded them, a Grey Cup. Ultimate victory does not wipe out their respective pasts, but it does provide them with a new positive chapter to build on. It’s fair to say a Lions championship would mean both quarterbacks played a significant role. Rarely does a team go through an entire regular season and the rigours of the playoffs without the backup playing a brief starring role.
Just think of what a win means for each quarterback. For Evans it at least dampens the sting of two Grey Cup losses and would help put a spotlight on the overall success he had as a member of the Tiger-Cats. His remarkable 2019 season and that ridiculous Eastern Final in 2021 when he came off the bench to rally Hamilton past Toronto by completing all 16 of his passes for 249 yards and a touchdown feels just that much more special when you can add a ring to it. Yes, his 23 turnover 2022 season will always be there but helping the Lions to their first Grey Cup in a dozen years would add greater depth to his entire body of work.
For Adams, a Grey Cup would be that proverbial cherry on top of an up and down football career that still has many seasons ahead. His height limited his scholarship offers after high school and he was largely ignored by the NFL before making his way to Montreal in 2016. He won his first start with the Alouettes late in the 2016 season, beating the Saskatchewan Roughriders 19-14 but he spent his early years in the CFL more as a football nomad than a permanent fixture.
Then came his magical 2019 season where everything just clicked, as Adams made the East Division All-Star team, passing for nearly 4,000 yards while producing 36 total touchdowns. Any and all professional momentum was crushed by the cancelled 2020 season. A shoulder injury derailed a solid 2021 in Week 10 and we all saw how quickly things went south in 2022 before Adams was shipped West.
There will be plenty of redemption stories we’re going to focus on before the kickoff of the 2023 season. Bo Levi Mitchell quickly comes to mind there but at the top of the list has to be the BC Lions’ quarterbacks. A position that is usually associated with stoic individuality will be at its best by a duo working together, helping each other capture that elusive Grey Cup.