The Saskatchewan Roughriders pickup of Duke Williams is paying early dividends and giving some Rider fans a sense of déjà vu from a similar acquisition some 17 years ago.
The 2004 version of the Riders were guided by a promising 29-year-old quarterback named Henry Burris.
Smilin Hank, as the affable Burris was aptly nicknamed by the locals on the prairies at the time, had shown plenty of sizzle but not a lot of steak in his short career to that point as a CFL starting quarterback.
With just one year of starts under his belt in which he had been prone to interceptions and losing, Burris had spent the vast majority of the rest of his career on the bench in both Canada and the NFL.
He did little to excite Rider fans that his potential would ever materialize with Saskatchewan limping to a 4-8 start to the season, including back-to-back losses to Winnipeg in the Labour Day Classic and newly named Banjo Bowl, the annual early September home-and-home with the Blue Bombers.
Troy Westwood shooting his mouth off not-withstanding, Burris was in big trouble. In danger of not only missing the playoffs but losing his status as a CFL quarterback and endangering the jobs of his GM Roy Shivers and head coach Danny Barrett, at the time, too.
Doubts of who Burris really was began to creep in. Then Matt Dominguez showed up, a late cut of the New York Jets that fall.
He would help Burris and the Riders get back on track and rattle off five straight wins to crawl back into the playoff picture and within a last-second touchdown on the last play of the regular season to hosting a playoff game that November.
The Riders would win a playoff game and then lose the Western Final that year in one of the most epic playoff showdowns in professional playoff football history. Burris and his future Hall of Fame career would explode from there. The rest, as they say, would be history.
Fast forward to the now, 2021 where COVID is a regular part of our vocabularies. Another 29-year-old QB in Cody Fajardo had just gone through back-to-back losses to Winnipeg and then two more to Calgary, just for good measure.
Fans and media began to question if Fajardo really was better than the backup we knew him to be over the first four years of his CFL career. And then a receiver, cut from an NFL training camp in the state of New York shows up in Regina.
Williams, late of the Buffalo Bills, plays a key role — recovering onside kick tries by the other team trying to come back in each game he’s played — in nailing down three straight wins to lock up a playoff berth and probably a home playoff game, to boot.
It’s not 2004 but the optics are strikingly similar and the stars are aligning for a classic finish for Saskatchewan, once again. For Fajardo, who would dearly love to have anywhere near the career Burris had, that’s a positive sign.
The Dominguez Effect is a sequel that is so far suiting everyone on the prairies just fine.