CFL Pass

Vanstone: Ex-Riders quarterbacks are Bombers' lucky charm

Tom Burgess did not attempt a pass in the 1989 Grey Cup game, but the word “incomplete” was still applicable.

As much as he revelled in the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ 43-40 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, there was a notable, nagging void.

“There’s a teammate part of you that’s extremely happy because of what we had achieved together, but there’s a selfishness, because you want to be the one,’’ Burgess said in an interview for my book on the 1989 CFL champions, The Greatest Grey Cup Ever.

“It was a very bittersweet kind of feeling. On the one hand, you’re the Grey Cup champions. On the other hand, I didn’t appear in the game.’’

A year later, Burgess discovered what it was like for Kent Austin in the 1989 Grey Cup game. Burgess, a la Austin, threw three touchdown passes to lead his team to victory.

That team, the 1990 Winnipeg Blue Bombers, eviscerated the Edmonton Eskimos 50-11.

The Blue Bombers would not win another Grey Cup until Sunday, when another erstwhile Saskatchewan quarterback — Zach Collaros — piloted Winnipeg to a 33-12 conquest of Hamilton.

Collaros, a la Burgess, earned his second Grey Cup ring after being a bystander the first time around.

Back in 2012, Collaros watched from the sideline as teammate Ricky Ray quarterbacked the Toronto Argonauts to a 35-22 victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

Collaros returned to the big game in 2014 — as Hamilton’s starting quarterback — but lamented a 20-16 loss to Calgary.

The following year, Collaros was looking very much like the CFL’s most outstanding player before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

The Tiger-Cats gave up on Collaros midway through the 2017 season. The following January, he was dealt to the Roughriders, for whom he had a 10-4 record as a starter in 2018.

Come playoff time, though, Collaros could only watch due to a concussion he suffered in the regular-season finale. Elevated into a starting role, Brandon Bridge struggled at quarterback for Saskatchewan in a 23-18 playoff loss to Winnipeg.

In the months ahead, the concussion-prone Collaros received plenty of free, unsolicited advice from commentators who suggested that he should retire.

Collaros, and the Roughriders’ brass, had other thoughts. Saskatchewan re-signed him last February, to reviews that were hardly effusive.

The rest is well-documented.

Collaros was concussed, again, on the third play of the season opener.

A virtual unknown named Cody Fajardo performed so brilliantly, so quickly, that Collaros was deemed expendable.

More alleged experts suggested that he should retire.

With Fajardo suddenly, surprisingly entrenched as the Roughriders’ signal-caller, Collaros was dealt to Toronto on July 31. He never played a down for the Argonauts before being traded to Winnipeg on Oct. 9.

“But shouldn’t he really pack it in?” was the chorus (repeat).

Collaros ended up starting four games for Winnipeg, winning each time.

As a punctuation mark, he became a Cup-winning starting quarterback, authoring one of the most memorable comeback stories in CFL history.

Suggestions of retirement? Those, too, are history.

All plaudits are well-deserved.

All criticism of his critics is also warranted.

Collaros took the high road when asked about a nomadic 2019 season. He went to considerable lengths to downplay a delectable storyline, choosing his words with characteristic caution while concentrating on mastering a series of playbooks and being an exemplary teammate.

Burgess, too, made the best of an imperfect situation.

In the 1989 final, for example, he came off the bench after Austin injured a knee and threw touchdown passes to Ray Elgaard and Jeff Fairholm to help a 9-9 Saskatchewan side upend the 16-2 Eskimos 32-21.

Austin recovered quickly, presenting Roughriders head coach John Gregory with a dilemma: Which quarterback to choose?

Gregory opted for Austin and was rewarded with a 474-yard passing performance.

Austin was named the Grey Cup’s most outstanding offensive player — an award Burgess would win a year later.

Even while relegated to the sideline in 1989, Burgess deserved an assist. He suggested a play — a bomb to Fairholm — and Austin liked the idea.

A one-play, 75-yard touchdown drive resulted.

The next year, Burgess was launching TD passes on behalf of the victorious Blue Bombers — celebrating a championship for the second successive season.

“I put those two years together,’’ Burgess recalled. “I was with Saskapeg.”

Collaros, for his part, became a Saskapegger in one storybook season — ultimately knocking down his detractors a peg or two.

rvanstone@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robvanstone

Source: montrealgazette.com