‘You don’t find ways to win games, the organization moves on’: Cody Fajardo believes he could have lost Riders’ starting job with West Semi-Final loss

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Preparing for his second West Final as starting quarterback of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Cody Fajardo has no reservations about saying just where this game ranks on his all-time list.

“I think it goes as the top game in my career, to tell you the truth. My whole life as a CFL quarterback has been trying to get to the Grey Cup and be a Grey Cup-winning champion as a starting quarterback,” he said, alluding to just what might await him with a victory Sunday.

“I’ve done it as a backup, a short yardage guy and it means a lot when you are part of the team, but I think it’s going to mean so much more when you are the starting quarterback.”

While a Grey Cup berth remains the dream, Fajardo came dangerously close to living a nightmare after his performance in the West Semi-Final. The quarterback tossed four bad interceptions against Calgary, but was still able to find a way to claw back into the game for an overtime victory.

Fajardo shudders to think about the alternate reality in which he wasn’t able to put together a late game touchdown drive and the Riders went home empty-handed, but he believes he may not have been welcomed back to Saskatchewan had those events transpired.

“I’m not going to take myself down that road because we did win, but it probably wouldn’t have been all sunshines and rainbows, I’ll tell you that much. People might’ve been calling for my head and maybe it’s a different story at starting quarterback. I’ve seen over and over again where if you don’t perform in the high pressure situations and you don’t find ways to win games, the organization moves on,” Fajardo mused.

“I felt like I’ve done enough here to win football games and I want to be here as long as I can and help this team win a lot of football games, but it’s nice to know that I don’t have to go down that road because we found a way to win with four interceptions.”

Nonetheless, Fajardo will not feel comfortable in his position as a CFL starting quarterback until he has another Grey Cup ring on his finger, one that wasn’t earned by covering punts. After a conversation with his opponent last Sunday, he’s realized that is the only marker of a successful CFL pivot that matters.

“Talking to Bo [Levi Mitchell] after the game, it was pretty cool when he’s like ‘go get you one.’ I kind of thought about it and processed it,” Fajardo said. “Zach [Collaros] got himself one, Bo got himself one and to be elite in this league, to be a consistent starting quarterback that plays at a high level, you’ve got to go win yourself a Grey Cup.”

Throwing four interceptions again likely isn’t the way to do that and Fajardo knows he will have to improve dramatically to beat the top-seeded Bombers this week, but he is taking some solace in the performance of another quarterback. Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson also threw four picks and still got a win last Sunday, and that isn’t bad company to keep.

“Coincidence or not, it makes you feel a little bit better as a quarterback when you see an NFL MVP do a similar thing,” Fajardo chuckled.

“Everybody has their off days, but if you have the will to win and you’re a competitor, like I know Lamar is and like I am myself, you’re willing to do whatever you can help this team win no matter what the circumstances, no matter how much adversity.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.