December 10, 2019

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Here for a good time, if not a long time

It might just be a fall fling for the Bombers and Zach Collaros but they've already made plenty of memories together; is there one more to come?

Opinion

It was an obvious, fairly cookie-cutter question for Zach Collaros in the immediate aftermath of Sunday night's dramatic West Final victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders:

"How pumped are you to be going to the Grey Cup?" one scribe asked the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback.

"I'm pretty excited," the soft-spoken 31-year-old told a packed media gallery at Mosaic Stadium in a rather robotic tone that didn't exactly back up his words.

"Can't you tell? Just look at him," cracked coach Mike O'Shea, who sat beside Collaros and drew plenty of laughter for his good-natured ribbing.

Truth be told, the well-travelled Ohio native would rather let his arm do the talking on the field with his teammates than have to wax poetic on the podium. And there's no question he's made a heck of a statement since joining the club last month.

It was a last-minute hookup, as the Bombers flirted with simply staying the course before ultimately picking up the phone just as the trade deadline was about to hit.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/MARK TAYLOR

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros.

And while they may have been a bit coy at first, there’s no question the acquisition of Collaros was the start of something special. They can take things to a whole new level with a win Sunday against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, one that would end a 28-year championship drought for the franchise while instantly boosting Collaros to legendary status around these parts.

Like all good partnerships, this one is mutually beneficial. Not only did the Bombers desperately need Collaros in an attempt to save their season — even if they were unwilling to publicly admit it at the time — but the veteran quarterback desperately needed the Bombers in an attempt to help salvage a career that was quickly losing steam.

It is, quite frankly, a match made in sporting heaven.

You'll recall it was only a month ago that the very same O'Shea made a bold declaration: "This is Chris Streveler's team," he said, just days after acquiring Collaros from the Toronto Argonauts in what was touted as a late-season insurance policy, but nothing more. It also came after O'Shea had repeatedly stated he didn't feel his club needed to go out and add another experienced arm.

Clearly, O'Shea was trying to downplay the addition, with Streveler gamely holding down the fort for injured No. 1 quarterback Matt Nichols, and Collaros being moved a second time this season, with very little time to pick up an entirely new offensive scheme.

Under-promise and over-deliver, as the saying goes.

Well, with all due respect to both the bench boss and the tough-as-nails Streveler, one thing has become crystal-clear over the past two Sundays: This is Collaros's team now.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, right, is congratulated by Saskatchewan Roughriders' Dan Clark after the Blue Bombers won the CFL West Final in Regina, Sunday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JEFF MCINTOSH

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, right, is congratulated by Saskatchewan Roughriders' Dan Clark after the Blue Bombers won the CFL West Final in Regina, Sunday.

If you didn't know it after the Bombers routed the Calgary Stampeders 35-14 in the West Division semifinal, you sure did after Winnipeg went into Saskatchewan and emerged with a truly memorable 20-13 victory over the Roughriders.

Collaros has been sensational, giving the Bombers the kind of weapon they haven't had for years, going 3-0 in his lone regular-season and two playoff starts. He's completed 50 of 74 pass attempts for 681 yards and four touchdowns. He's thrown just one interception.

Along with a defence that continues to come up huge, his play is why the Bombers were able to punch their ticket to the Grey Cup despite a mostly ineffective ground game Sunday as the Roughriders keyed in on running back Andrew Harris, along with Streveler whenever he'd come in for a change-of-pace play or two, still hobbled by a foot injury that rocketed Collaros to the top of the depth chart.

Collaros led an efficient aerial attack, including driving the full length of the field in less than a minute for the only touchdown of the night, in what would prove to be the margin of victory.

Rather than dink-and-dunk, which seemed to become a staple of Winnipeg's passing game for years, Collaros isn't afraid to truly air it out and spread the field, keeping any opponent on its toes. And he does so with the kind of poise and confidence that rubs off on the the entire team, making them feel like there's nothing they can't accomplish.

I say there's no chance the Bombers are still planning for one final football game this week if general manager Kyle Walters doesn't pull the trigger on the trade, which involved a draft pick going the other way. Streveler, or even Nichols for that matter, can't do what a healthy and highly motivated Collaros clearly can.

Don't think for a second Winnipeg's surprise addition didn't sting a bit in Saskatchewan; the Roughriders began the season with Collaros as their No. 1, then moved on from him as he went down with an injury and backup Cody Fajardo emerged as a star. Safe to say they didn't expect to be facing him with their season on the line.

Saskatchewan Roughriders behind an image of Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros during the West Division final at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Sunday. The Roughriders began the season with Collaros as their starting quarterback, then traded him to the Toronto Argonauts after he went down with an injury.

THE CANADIAN PRESS / MARK TAYLOR

Saskatchewan Roughriders behind an image of Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros during the West Division final at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Sunday. The Roughriders began the season with Collaros as their starting quarterback, then traded him to the Toronto Argonauts after he went down with an injury.

"Just to be clear, we didn’t trade him to Winnipeg. We traded him to Toronto," 'Roughriders coach Craig Dickenson said prior to the game.

Ironically, Collaros will now get to follow up one revenge game with another. Standing on the other side of the field Sunday night at McMahon Stadium will be Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who essentially knocked him out of Saskatchewan with a dirty head hit just a few plays into their first regular-season game in June. Lawrence was ultimately suspended for two games. Collaros never took another snap for the Roughriders.

"I don't play one-on-one. It's a total team thing," Collaros said in an attempt to downplay the potential rivalry, which is, no doubt, going to be milked for maximum impact this week.

"We're excited for the challenge. Hamilton's a really good football team. We've got our work cut out for us."

They sure do. And while the Bombers will surely be viewed as underdogs against the CFL's top regular-season outfit, Collaros gives them more than a fighting chance. Bet against him at your own peril, I say.

Who knows where this relationship goes next? It may very well be short-term, with the pending free-agent Collaros finding another football home once this season is done.

Regardless of when it ends, it's certainly proving to be memorable.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Read full biography

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