MONTREAL — “I’ve had a couple of dreams this year of winning a Grey Cup,” Cody Fajardo said, his sweat-soaked uniform still on and the high of winning his first playoff game in two years still lingering.
“I know this roster is talented enough to win a Grey Cup.”
Fresh off of leading the Montreal Alouettes to a 27-12 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Fajardo found himself in a spot that he’s dearly missed. The 31-year-old is headed back to a Division Final and for the third time in his four years as a CFL starter is a win away from playing for a Grey Cup. Fajardo knows that these things don’t come easily. Each week it gets more difficult and the pressure ratchets up a little more. And with that, for a player like Fajardo chasing his first Grey Cup, he inches closer to the glass ceiling of his career.
In 2019 and 2021 it was the Winnipeg Blue Bombers who proved to be that season-ending roadblock (it’s a feeling that the other seven teams in the league can relate to as well). This year, for Fajardo and the Alouettes, it’s the Toronto Argonauts (similar vibes across the league on this one, too).
2023 CFL PLAYOFFS
» Depth Charts: HAM | MTL
» Through The Lens: Ticats at Als in Eastern Semi-Final
» Recap: Als find offence late to take Eastern Semi-Final
Despite a pair of close encounters, the Argos managed to take all three of their meetings with the Alouettes this year. That was part of a league record-tying 16-2 season that saw them lock up the right to host next week’s Eastern Final back in September.
Once again, Fajardo’s dreams will require trying to go up, over, around or through a juggernaut. He welcomes it.
“The thing about getting so close is it hurts a hell of a lot more when you’re that close than the years that you missed the playoffs, right?” he said. “It’s because everything you want is right in front of you.”
When you pour your heart into something, the risk of heartbreak is always there. Als head coach Jason Maas made it clear on Saturday night that’s all that Fajardo has done for this team this year.
Asked about Fajardo rushing for a season-high 62 yards, Maas referenced sacrifice.
“This time of year, I think you do whatever it takes to get first downs,” Maas said. “That’s the bottom line is keep the offence on the field, whatever it takes to keep the offence on the field you do. You sacrifice.
“That also happens before the game is played. That’s when you show up at six in the morning and work with your offensive coordinator every single day all year. When you show up at seven with the receivers and watch film before they’re supposed to be in the building. That’s the sacrifice our starting quarterback makes and has made all season long.
“That’s why he’s so well-respected in our locker room. He’s a leader on our offence and I know he’ll give us everything he has off the field. This time of year you get everything on the field as well, and I know he’s willing to keep doing that.”
For Fajardo’s dream to come true, he’ll have to lead the Als through that glass ceiling that’s settled over them this season. The three losses to Toronto, a pair of losses to Winnipeg and a pair of losses to BC this year has them winless against the top-three teams in the CFL. If the Alouettes’ season is to continue, that breakthrough game has to come next week at BMO Field.
“I’ve had some tough games against really good opponents,” Fajardo said, looking back at those battles with the Blue Bombers when he wore green.
“The same thing is to be said, going into a (game against a) team that’s 16-2, it’s only been done once ever in the CFL. So we’re going to have our hands full and we’re going to have our work cut out for us, especially (with the Argos) coming off a bye week and being healthy and amped up.
“But sometimes when you play in the (playoff game the) week before, you have momentum and you have a high energy going into a Final as opposed to being on a bye week. I’ve been on both sides of it. I’m just happy to be where we’re at. I know this team is a Grey Cup-winning team and I can’t wait for the opportunity to go against Toronto in their home stadium.”
Going into this Eastern Semi-Final, Fajardo spoke of how difficult it was to miss the playoffs last year. As he pointed out, he’s back in his third Division Final, up against that ceiling that he’s hit twice before. Whatever happens on the field next week, expect Fajardo to put everything he has into getting his breakthrough.