DAVIS: In the end, Darian Durant proved all the doubters wrong

From the moment he joined the Saskatchewan Roughriders as a practice-roster player in 2006, quarterback Darian Durant had a chip on his shoulder. That familiar attitude, honed as inspiration by so many great athletes, of “Don’t tell me what I can’t do. I’ll prove what I can do.”

Through his 12-year playing career and thousands of interviews, he bristled at criticism from fans, media and coaches, using it as motivation as he went from third-stringer to revered, Grey Cup-winning starter to fading star. He may not have been the Roughriders’ best passing quarterback ever, with Henry Burris and early Kent Austin leading that category, or best runner, because Nealon Greene and Kerry Joseph could certainly scamper, but as an all-around package with brains and guts and determination and success and popularity factored in, Durant has to sit atop the group.

It was obvious from the beginning that nobody was going to tell Durant when he couldn’t play football anymore until he announced on his website Friday that an off-field opportunity and the birth of his first child convinced him to retire from the CFL. The announcement surprised the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who reportedly had already paid him a $70,000 contract bonus to be their backup this season. Winnipeg still believed he could play football, even though the Roughriders had given up on him in 2017 and dealt him to the Montreal Alouettes, who cut him after one inglorious season.

It might have been the ultimate “F*** you!” to his doubters, some of whom resided in Saskatchewan. In his retirement announcement, he praised Rider Nation and promised to remain close by establishing a foundation in his name.

Durant learned long ago that if you fawn over Roughrider fans, most of them will fawn over you, especially if you’re playing hard. And especially if you lead the franchise to its most glorious moment, the 2013 Grey Cup victory at home. No quarterback had a better string of games than Durant while leading the Roughriders through that year’s playoffs. His joy was obvious while lifting the Grey Cup aloft at Taylor Field, while he was tearing up and recalling all the disbelievers, all the doubt, all the adversity he had gone through.

Durant was nearly dumped by the Roughriders in 2006, Eric Tillman, general manager at the time, tells a story about rescuing Durant from the airport and reinstating him on the roster after the aspiring quarterback had been cut by then-head coach Danny Barrett. Durant was Saskatchewan’s third-string quarterback by 2007, earning his first Grey Cup ring. With slotback Andy Fantuz not receiving a contract offer and defensive end John Chick retiring in the offseason, Durant was the last remaining CFL player from that ’07 squad.

After earning then losing the starting role (to Michael Bishop!) in 2008, Durant became the undisputed starter and basically led the Roughriders to a championship in 2009, until a too-many-men penalty allowed the Montreal Alouettes to re-kick the game-winning field goal. Montreal again defeated Saskatchewan in the 2010 Grey Cup, fanning the flames of discontent among doubters who didn’t think Durant could win a championship.

Three years later, he proved them wrong.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.