A lot can change over the course of five weeks, but you don’t have to tell Naaman Roosevelt that.
The 33-year old receiver was back in front of CFL media on Thursday, but he was sporting a different coloured shirt than when he was last north of the border. A surprise cut by the Montreal Alouettes at the end of training camp, Roosevelt spent the last month back home in Buffalo, waiting and contemplating life after football. He was coaching local receivers and enrolling himself in classes, but when the phone finally rang, there was no hesitation.
“I told them I was ready, still willing to play,” Roosevelt told reporters while seated at the Blue Bombers podium for the first time.
“When Winnipeg called, it was the right decision to come here.”
It was certainly a decision that came at the right time for his new teams. After a narrow victory over Calgary last Sunday, Winnipeg is banged up in the receiving corps with Darvin Adams, Nic Demski, Drew Wolitarsky and Rasheed Bailey all battling injuries. All were full participants in Thursday’s practice, but their status for Sunday won’t be known until the weekend.
The company line spouted by head coach Mike O’Shea is that those nicks and bruises are what what prompted Roosevelt to be brought in, but that isn’t the whole story. Whether the team wishes to admit it or not, dropped passes nearly cost the Bombers’ their Week 4 game. The team’s leading receiver Kenny Lawler has allowed four passes to smack off his hands in the last two weeks and he hasn’t been the only culprit.
Enter one of the most sure-handed receivers in the Canadian game to help put Winnipeg back on track for a Grey Cup repeat.
“I knew it was a great choice for me to come here and help build what they already have – they are the defending Grey Cup champions. So, for me, that was my main goal – to come in here and win a Grey Cup and I thought this was the best team to do it with,” Roosevelt said.
Those sort of words are bound to raise a few eyebrows with the Bombers’ first opponent during the new receiver’s tenure, the undefeated Saskatchewan Roughriders, especially given his relationship with the club.
Prior to his brief preseason stint with Montreal, Roosevelt spent five seasons in Riderville and quickly established himself as a fan favourite. He recorded 301 receptions for 4,134 yards (61.7 yards per outing) and 20 touchdowns in 67 games in green, producing two 1,000-yard seasons. 2019 was very nearly his third, as the Buffalo native caught 77 balls for 946 yards and one major.
Roosevelt led the Riders with 26 second down conversions in 2019 while having the most targets in the league (116) without a dropped ball that same season, both skill sets that Winnipeg might want to utilize against his old team. Having finished his quarantine for Thursday, Roosevelt could enter the lineup as soon as Sunday, just in time for the Labour Day Classic in Regina.
“We’ll see. To go back and play in front of that crowd and the fans I played for the last couple of years, it would be awesome,” the receiver admitted. “No matter what it’ll be fun and I can’t wait to see that.”
Starting a football game on what would amount to a single practice might be a tall task, but Winnipeg hasn’t ruled it out for Roosevelt. As a veteran, he’ll be expected to pick up the playbook quickly and already has built in chemistry quarterback Zach Collaros from their time together in Saskatchewan.
Chances are that the former Riders will hook up sometime in the next two rivalry games and Roosevelt is enjoying playing turncoat.
“It was definitely crazy coming up here. Just the feel of it was different. But it was fun. I’ve got a bunch of texts and calls from Saskatchewan players and Saskatchewan fans. It’s definitely funny to be on the other side,” he said.
“I’m excited. I’m ready to see what happens this weekend, ready for the Banjo Bowl and be on the other side. It was so loud coming to Winnipeg for that Banjo Bowl, so I want to see it on the other side. That should be fun.”
Roosevelt has contributed to the rivalry plenty over the years, picking up eight catches for 93 yards in the last Labour Day Classic and adding seven for 87 in the West Final. Should he be in the Bombers’ lineup for either game however, he’ll be a focal point like never before.