There were text messages from Ricky Ray and Travis Lulay and 21 weeks’ worth of daily 6 a.m. meetings with offensive coordinator Anthony Calvillo. In the end, with the 110th Grey Cup just 24 hours away, Cody Fajardo channelled some of the fire of the other former CFL quarterback influence in his life, in his head coach, Jason Maas.
Fajardo gave an impassioned speech to his teammates on Saturday, where he stepped out of his clean-cut, PG-rated persona and got a little more NSFW.
CJME’s (and CFL.ca’s) Jamie Nye reported on Sunday evening that Fajardo gave a simple and direct message to anyone and everyone that’s doubted the Montreal Alouettes this year.
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Fajardo led the Als on a crunch-time fourth quarter drive and looked like an amalgamation of all of those quarterbacks that he’s turned to for advice this season. There was a second-and-18 rush that saw Fajardo look Lulay-like as he picked up 13 yards. On the do-or-die third-and-five, he channeled Ray, who made a third-down play for the Argos in the Eastern Semi-Final in 2017, with Fajardo finding Cole Spieker for a 31-yard hookup. With the 28,808 fans at Tim Hortons Field buzzing over what had just happened, Fajardo zeroed in on the end zone looking like Calvillo, zipping a touchdown pass into the hands of Tyson Philpot, giving Alouettes fans a flash of Calvillo looking to Ben Cahoon.
The result, for the first time in 13 years, was the same. For the first time since Calvillo was piecing together his hall of fame career, the Alouettes are back on top of the CFL.
“It’s one of those memorable finishes that you see quite often in championship games, because of how big the stage is,” Maas said of that final drive.
“You’re on that winning side, I don’t know that there’s a more tremendous feeling, you definitely can’t buy it. It’s something you earn and I think people appreciate it. And historical, I think it was, obviously it’s going to go down as what put us over the top to win that 2023 Grey Cup and the eighth Grey Cup of our franchise.”
Fajardo revealed early in this week that he’d reached out to Ray, whom he backed up in Toronto in 2016 and 2017 and Travis Lulay, whom he backed up in BC in 2018 for advice on how to handle the on and off the field pressures that Grey Cup week bring.
“It just reminds me of a lot of stuff that I went through and a lot of other guys have gone through in their careers,” Ray said on Sunday, just as the Alouettes were arriving at the stadium. He looked at how Fajardo’s time in Saskatchewan ended last season, with the team opting to bench him before it was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, then going through the uncertainty of free agency and moving across the country to suit up for the Als.
“It’s what you’ve got to do in professional football,” Ray said. “Even guys like Zach (Collaros), I mean, he’s been through that too with different teams and some injuries and look what he’s done throughout his career. Even Bo Levi (Mitchell) has been going through it in his career. It’s going to come get you at some point and you’ve just got to keep playing and wait for your next opportunity to come your way and take advantage of it.”
Fajardo took advantage of it on the biggest stage this league can provide. In a season where the Alouettes’ offence was questioned to the point of near insult — Maas seemed agitated in the pre-game by a question about the defence carrying the team recently — Fajardo led the team to a dynamic three-touchdown showing, building off of another strong Als’ defensive showing. Fajardo threw the ball with freedom and purpose against the Bombers, flinging calculated risks that more often than not paid off.
“We had a lot of calls built for those situations,” said an overjoyed Calvillo, who was surrounded by his family on the field after the game.
“It went exactly how we thought it was going to happen, but the guys have to go out there and execute it. It’s one of those things where you get excited for those situations when the guys can execute at that time at that level. That made the difference today. It’s a huge step for all those guys on the football field and it helped us win a championship.”
Going into the game, there was always a glass ceiling over Fajardo. In Saskatchewan, he was stopped in the Western Final in 2019 and 2021 by Collaros and the Bombers. His would-be-winning touchdown pass in the 2019 game bounced off of the upright with the clock at zeroes. With the Als this year, he and his team were unable to beat Winnipeg, Toronto or BC in the regular season.
To win this Grey Cup, they took down the 16-win Argos and altered the legacy of a Bombers team that was eying entering a new CFL stratosphere had it been able to pull out a third Grey Cup in four seasons. Fajardo raises the Cup with two giants slain on the field around him, surrounded by the shards of that broken ceiling.
“That’s what you’re trying to do as an athlete is you’re trying to prove to yourself that you can be a champion and win the big game,” Ray said.
“That’s what we all dream about, growing up as kids. You watch on TV, all the teams that you root for and great players and you see them win a championship. We hope someday that we’re able to achieve that. He’s out there trying to do that and that’s the hard thing. He played so many games and any win and lose so many games, but that’s the one thing you want to do, though, is go out there and prove to yourself that you can be a champion.”
Just 31, a newly-proven champ and with the Als basking in newfound stability under the ownership of Pierre Karl Péladeau, Fajardo’s future feels full of possibility.
“Thirty-one years old. I mean, there’s quarterbacks that play into their 40s,” Maas said. “So you can imagine what this does for any quarterback.
“It’s hard to win. It’s tough to win in this league. I don’t think people understand how tough it is to win in this league and how much work it takes.”
Maas said Fajardo will take a couple of weeks to enjoy this and to let his body recuperate after a long season, but he’ll have to get back to work soon.
“There’s teams that stopped their season three, four weeks ago that are already into their off-season. So I mean, you gotta catch right back up,” he said.
For now, Fajardo can celebrate. He said after the Als downed the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Eastern Semi-Final that he’d been having dreams of winning the Grey Cup. Amidst the celebrations on Sunday night stood Tim Fajardo, Cody’s father. In between hugging other player’s fathers that he crossed paths with, he said that Cody’s brother had a dream this week that the confetti would be falling on Cody on Sunday.
“He had a lot to prove that he should have proved over there,” Tim said, a protective father letting his feelings on his son’s career stand out.
“We all knew we were going to win.”
Dreams are reality now. Fajardo and the Als have broken through and changed the landscape of the CFL.