CFL Pass

Vanstone: Roughriders show that nice guys can finish first

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are a winning team that showcases winning personalities.

What more could anyone ask for?

Yes, a fifth Grey Cup championship would be welcomed by the CFL team’s fan base. But, to this point in the 2019 season, it is difficult to imagine the story turning out much better.

There simply isn’t any reason not to like this team.

From the top down, the Roughriders’ football-operations side is laden with first-class individuals — people who, to borrow an overused yet applicable term, “get it.”

Jeremy O’Day made a commitment to the franchise, and to the community, long before he was named the general manager and vice-president of football operations.

O’Day played here and stayed here, raising a family far away from his hometown of Lockport, N.Y.

In 2008, O’Day received the Tom Pate Memorial Award, which is presented annually to a player of exemplary character.

The following year, the perennial all-star centre helped the Roughriders earn top spot in the West Division for the first time since 1976. The Roughriders would not repeat the feat until 2019 — his first year as the GM.

After succeeding Chris Jones in January, O’Day’s immediate priority was to appoint a head coach. Craig Dickenson was soon hired.

Dickenson has to be the front-runner for CFL coach-of-the-year honours after guiding Saskatchewan to a 13-5 record.

Along the way, Dickenson has established that nice guys can, in fact, finish first.

Dickenson’s rapport with the players evokes memories of former Roughriders head coaches Joe Faragalli (1981-83) and Ken Miller (2008-11).

Faragalli was beloved as “Papa Joe.” The avuncular Miller was so popular, so respected, that the players would have done anything for him. Under Dickenson, there is a similar vibe.

As was the case during the Miller years, the Roughriders are celebrating the emergence of a franchise quarterback.

Miller believed in Darian Durant, even in the face of some skepticism, and Rider Nation was rewarded with Grey Cup appearances in 2009, 2010 and 2013. In the latter year, the Roughriders rejoiced over a landmark home-field championship-game victory.

Durant turned 27 during his first season as Saskatchewan’s unrivalled starting quarterback. Now, at 27, Cody Fajardo has quickly, surprisingly emerged as a phenomenally popular pivot.

After registering a league-high 4,302 passing yards and rushing for 10 touchdowns, Fajardo is likely to earn West Division all-star honours. Post-Ron Lancaster, only three Roughriders quarterbacks have been all-stars — Kent Austin (in 1990), Kerry Joseph (2007) and Durant (2009, 2013).

Fajardo’s contributions extend beyond the football field. He has endeared himself to fans and reporters alike with his amiable manner. Every interview is enlightening. Every interaction with a fan is a mutually enjoyable experience.

Some quarterbacks shy away from the scrutiny to which a Roughriders quarterback is subjected. Fajardo is unfazed by it all. Having recently signed a contract extension, he wants to immerse himself in all things Roughriders.

From every perspective, Fajardo has been a tonic for the Green and White. He has been at the forefront of the restoration of fun. A franchise that was starting to become coldly corporate once again exudes humanity.

It is hardly accidental that such a mindset pervades under O’Day and Dickenson.

They understand the necessity of a close connection between the community-owned team and the public.

And when there is on-field success to accompany off-field excellence, winning looks good on everyone.

rvanstone@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robvanstone

Source: montrealgazette.com