Ask any one on the Saskatchewan Roughriders and they’ll tell you they have it. Even two years later, the Riders’ home loss in the 2019 West Final weighs heavy on the organization. To see their arch-rival Winnipeg Blue Bombers hoist the Grey Cup a week later was bad enough. To have that feeling stew over the course of a dark and dismal 2020 was worse.
No one has felt that more acutely than Cody Fajardo. In his dreams, the star quarterback is still laying face down in the Mosaic Field turf, hands on his helmet as the horrific ding of pigskin meeting crossbar echoes through Regina.
“That’s the hard part for me personally. That last play goes on nobody but myself for hitting the goalpost and I’ve had to live with it for two years,” Fajardo said frankly ahead of his team’s long awaited home opener.
“My social media is all about me hitting the goalpost, so there’s a mental aspect to just sitting on that for two years and now having an opportunity to redeem yourself or go out there and wash that bad taste out of your mouth.”
Down 20-13 with just four seconds remaining, Fajardo had driven his team all the way down to the Winnipeg eight-yard line. With one shot to tie the game, he had time to deliver a strike to Kyran Moore in the endzone but found only the hollow metal goalpost in front of him. A devastated Rider Nation could only watch helplessly as their Grey Cup hopes deflected high in the air and harmlessly to the turf.
Fajardo isn’t sure if Grey Cup glory would have followed had the ball’s trajectory been just a few inches higher or lower, but he’s thought about it often over the past 627 days.
“It felt good coming out of my hand and that’s all I really remember. I’ve watched it probably seven times as many times as you’ve watched it,” he told the equally obsessive members of the Riders press corps.
“I’ve watched that play a lot and at one point I got to a place where I said this will be the last time I ever watch it and I’ll move on from this for the rest of my career and never bring it up again. But it’s so hard when the media brings it up in terms of showing it or a person tags you in it on your social media. It’s just hard to block out all that noise.”
After months of quips and jabs thrown his way, the pain has numbed only somewhat. Friday offers his first opportunity to silence the critics. When Fajardo and the Riders take to the Mosaic Stadium to face the B.C. Lions, the quarterback might finally be able to exorcise his goalpost-shaped demons.
“I’m just excited for that opportunity to finally come. I thought it would never come and I was a little nervous about that. Maybe that was my last play of my entire football existence,” he admitted openly. “It’s just good to hear that I’ve got a chance to go out on Friday and play football and hopefully erase those bad memories.”
His teammates will be equally excited to get their own chance to rectify the errors of the past and even those new to the Riders will need little in the way of external motivation. Just like Fajardo, they all have unfinished business in one form or another and channeling that energy productively after a year away from the game is the key to success.
“I don’t think there’s a pregame speech that’s going to pump the guys up more than just the want to play CFL football again,” Fajardo said. “It’s going to be one of those games where you don’t say anything in the locker room and everybody just knows that it’s business as usual.”