In a season the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have heard all about the longest active Grey Cup drought, a striking similarity from the past just might rescue their hopes of winning it all.
One-time face of the franchise-turned-journeyman backup quarterback Zach Collaros has given the Bombers a newfound IT factor, not seen since starter Matt Nichols went down with a season-ending shoulder injury in week 10.
Swagger, bravado, mojo, whatever it is, Collaros had it in Winnipeg’s devastating take-down of the Calgary Stampeders. Something fans in Regina never saw in the one season and change he spent on the prairies.
He’s got Manitoba excited about something in a way Chris Streveler never could. Kind of like another Roughrider misfit some 29 years earlier.
Tom Burgess had battled Kent Austin for the starter’s job in Saskatchewan for two-plus seasons, including the iconic 1989 Grey Cup win. The alternating co-starter act was getting old for both quarterbacks, as it always does, and something had to give.
Players in the locker room liked the folksy Burgess and he was great at reading zone defences, too. Austin was better at navigating man-to-man coverage and had a downright hatred for losing and his teammates respected his on-field command.
Austin also won more games, which was enough to prompt head coach John Gregory to roll the dice with him in the playoffs. The ’89 Grey Cup would solidify Austin as the face of the franchise and Burgess had to choose between being a backup or finding a new home.
Just like Collaros had to decide this past summer between backing up Cody Fajardo or finding a new home.
In 1990, then-Winnipeg general manager Cal Murphy, desperate for a trigger-puller better than Sean Sailsbury, Sammy Garza or Lee Saltz, showed up at Rider training camp to seal the trade that would send Burgess to the Blue Bombers.
In 2019, current Winnipeg GM Kyle Walters, desperate for a trigger-puller better than Chris Streveler, worked his cellphone to seal the trade that would send Collaros to the Blue Bombers.
In 1990, the Blue Bombers won it all with a star-studded defence led by Greg Battle, Rod Hill, Tyrone Jones and James “Wild” West, along with a Roughrider-misfit-quarterback turned Winnipeg saviour named Tom Burgess.
In 2019, the Blue Bombers can still very much win it all with a star-studded defence led by Willie Jefferson, Adam Bighill, Winston Rose and Chandler Fenner, along with a Roughrider-misfit-quarterback turned Winnipeg saviour named Zach Collaros.
Zach is back and so are the Grey Cup hopes of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.