Davis: Darian Durant’s return to Saskatchewan was both contrived & earnest

Veteran quarterback Darian Durant got his video tribute from the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the thing sports franchises use to say, “We didn’t want you anymore, but hey, welcome back.”

Forgive the cynicism accumulated through 36 years of sports-writing, but although this is becoming de rigueur in some pro sports leagues, it seems hypocritical for teams to fete any returning players, particularly if the parting wasn’t particularly amicable.

But the minute-plus video montage, played on the massive scoreboard, showed some career highlights capped by a cup-carrying Durant and the message “Thank you, Doubles.” It was well-received by its subject, who admitted to being emotional, and the crowd at Friday’s CFL game inside Mosaic Stadium, who gave him a standing ovation. And when it’s all said and done, the event was an opportunity for the fans and the quarterback to show their affection for each other, even though there will be future opportunities such as his induction into the Roughriders’ Plaza of Honour.

When Durant departed Saskatchewan via a January trade after 11 seasons, including two Grey Cup victories and two other appearances while becoming the team’s second-leading passer behind Hall of Famer Ron Lancaster, he was reeling from his dealings with general manager/head coach/vice-president of football operations Chris Jones. In contract negotiations, Durant had been offered a substantial pay cut and been described by Jones as “moderately successful” during his time in Saskatchewan.

Obviously, the contract was never signed. Durant was dispatched to the Montreal Alouettes for a couple of draft picks. The scenario was re-hashed before the season-opener, when the Roughriders visited Montreal and lost 17-16. Rider fans were upset about Durant’s exuberant post-game celebration when he evidently barked in Jones’ direction and declared the “football gods” were on his side.

Four months later, before his long-awaited debut at Saskatchewan’s brand-new ballpark, Durant admitted he got too emotional following the season-opening victory. As the Roughriders kept improving for their first playoff appearance in three years, the Alouettes had self-destructed, were on a nine-game losing streak. Durant said he was looking forward to playing in Mosaic Stadium and expecting plaudits from the fans. Once again there were some fans aghast at Durant’s perceived lack of humility.

What Durant accomplished with the Roughriders was really quite remarkable. Lancaster, Kent Austin, Kerry Joseph and Durant are the only quarterbacks to lead the team to a Grey Cup victory. And Durant, who was a third-stringer in 2007 and the starter in 2013, is the only pivot with two championship rings. At 35 he may be on his last legs, although he insisted after Friday’s game that there’s “lots of football” left inside him.

He didn’t play particularly well in Montreal’s 37-12 loss, a team record 10th straight defeat. On a chilly night Durant completed nine of 20 passes for 126 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He suffered an apparent knee injury after being sacked by A.C. Leonard, but finished the second quarter before changing into street clothes, hanging out on the Als bench, and being replaced in the second half by rookie Matt Shiltz.

After the game ended, Durant — who is expecting his first child in January and still has a residence in Regina — stopped to visit and exchange pleasantries with numerous fans. That was the most sincere part.

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