Buried at the bottom of Jeff Hamilton’s excellent read in the Winnipeg Free Press on the decision by quarterback Darian Durant to retire is this little bombshell: Durant allegedly refused to play in the final game of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ 2016 season – despite being healthy enough to do so.
The game was the final one of Durant’s career as a Rider and came at the end of a disappointing campaign for Saskatchewan. Going into that final contest, they were 5-12 and already out of playoff contention.
But the game had playoff seeding implications for both the B.C. Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. B.C. was 11-6 and second in the West Divsion going into the final week of the regular season, while the Bombers were in third at 10-7. A loss by B.C. and a victory by Winnipeg would have given the teams identical records; the Bombers held the tie-breaker, so they would have leapfrogged the Leos into second place — and hosted the West Semi-Final.
Durant played the week before in the final game at old Mosaic Stadium, splitting time with Jake Waters in a 24-6 loss to B.C.
Hamilton’s story says Saskatchewan head coach Chris Jones wanted Durant – who was set to become a free agent after the season – in the finale but the player said he couldn’t go.
According to multiple accounts from people close to the Roughriders organization, this isn’t the first time Durant has quit on a team. A source, with first-hand knowledge of the situation, said Durant refused to play in the final game of his final season with the Roughriders in 2016.
With the Riders officially eliminated from the playoffs, and despite being cleared by the medical staff and with head coach Chris Jones adamant that he wanted him to play against a B.C. Lions team still fighting for playoff position, Durant refused.
According to sources, he said he was too hurt to play, but the overwhelming feeling was Durant chose himself over the team. The Riders cut ties with him, and months later he signed with Montreal. With the Alouettes, he finished the 2017 season with more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (15).
Without Durant in the lineup, Saskatchewan used Brandon Bridge, Mitch Gale and G.J. Kinne at quarterback and the Lions won 41-18, securing second in the West. They would go on to beat the Bombers 32-31 in the West Semi-Final at B.C. Place.
Durant’s final season with the Riders was a tumultuous one with discussion about his future dominating the conversation in Rider Nation. Jones referred to him as a “moderately successful” quarterback and while Durant said he wanted to stay, relationships were clearly strained. Jones ultimately traded Durant’s rights to the Montreal Alouettes, who signed him to a three-year contract before releasing him this winter.