FRIESEN: Winnipeg double-whammy, as Streveler, Big Buff, head for door
It’s the end of an era.
Two of them, actually.
And Winnipeg will never be the same again.
Blue Monday began when the Bombers released the Fur Coat, also known as quarterback Chris Streveler, so he could take his bare chest and cowboy hat south of the border.
The news only got worse, with word the Jets and defenceman Dustin Byfuglien are working towards a less amicable split: an outright termination of his contract, ending a nasty battle over $14 million.
Easily the most popular Jet and arguably the most popular Bomber, headed for the door on the same day.
It’s hard to imagine them making more contrasting exits.
Streveler bolts town chomping on a cigar and grinning ear-to-ear, his ring finger soon to be fitted with a bauble marking the 2019 Grey Cup title.
The now 25-year-old bid farewell via Twitter.
“So thankful for these past two years,” he posted, Monday afternoon. “Winnipeg will always be a special place to me. I love all my teammates and appreciate all your support. We’ll still always be Grey Cup champs!”
While Streveler may have been listed on the roster as a backup, he was the one constant at the position in the Bombers’ historic, drought-busting, three-quarterback season.
But his skill set was anything but typical. In fact, we’re not sure anyone in the CFL has ever played the position quite like him.
Equal parts power-runner and speed merchant – Streveler runs a 4.45-second 40-yard-dash – the University of South Dakota product finished sixth in the CFL with 726 yards rushing, with 12 touchdowns, tied for the most in the league.
He was the Bombers’ best offensive player in a West semifinal win over defending champ Calgary, rumbling for 82 yards on 13 carries, including a 24-yard touchdown.
On a bad foot.
“I don’t know that there’s enough I could say about Chris Streveler,” head coach Mike O’Shea said, post-game. “He embodies the idea of honouring your teammates.”
Streveler didn’t light it up through the air – 1,564 yards, eight touchdowns, 14 interceptions on the season – but he did throw Winnipeg’s only touchdown pass in the Grey Cup win over Hamilton.
He then left a lasting impression as the lit-up and loquacious unofficial marshal of the Grey Cup parade.
Byfuglien’s lasting image? More like a chewing-tobacco stain on the sidewalk, for some.
You can picture the big man in a hut, sitting next to a hole in the ice, fishing rod in one hand, beer in the other, continuing to not give a carp about the hole he left the Jets in.
The Byfuglien saga began when he didn’t show up for training camp, apparently because he didn’t feel like playing anymore.
We can only imagine the Jets begged him to reconsider, given the already-depleted state of their blue line.
The only thing that got reconsidered was the way he walked away from the last two years of his contract. Imagine how that went over with his agency, which gets a percentage, and the players union, which fought so hard for guaranteed contracts.
So they filed a grievance, claiming Byfuglien was still recovering from a foot injury suffered last season – he actually had surgery to repair it – and tying up his money until lawyers could make their case to an arbitrator.
Byfuglien recovered but still doesn’t feel like pulling on a pair of skates. So his side finally blinked, and here we are: the Jets reportedly willing to cut him loose to get some much-needed wiggle room under the salary cap.
Like Streveler, Byfuglien played his own game, an unparalleled combination of brute strength and finesse, equally able to turn a game with the force of a hit or the flick of his wrist.
His reticent approach with the media only endeared him more to fans. He was more like them, preferring blue jeans and a flannel shirt to a suit and tie. A cabin on a Manitoba lake over a high-rise in Vegas.
There may never be another like him.
Just like there may never be another Streveler.
Two athletes who captured the hearts of a city and province while marching to their own beats.
One leaves a champion, with a smile on his mug.
The other, with a shrug.