Cody Fajardo’s tears from garbage bag day should mean a whole lot to Saskatchewan Roughriders fans.
What is beginning to seem like a distant memory, the REIGN OF ERROR was punctuated by a 30-year stretch of quarterbacks who either couldn’t play in Saskatchewan, didn’t want to play in Saskatchewan or both.
From 1977 to 2006, the Riders never finished first once, missed the playoffs 18 times and had just a single losing home playoff game to get excited about. But as much as the losses piled up and cold winters without playoff excitement hurt, it was the lack of a true stud signal caller to celebrate that really stung.
After Ron Lancaster’s career fizzled out, the laundry list included Danny Sanders, John Hufnagel, Joe Barnes, Tom Clements for part of a season, Joe ‘747’ Adams, Homer Jordan, Joe Paopao, Bernard Quarles, Tom Burgess, Kent Austin, Jeff Tedford, Jeff Bentrim, Warren Jones, Burgess again, Jimmy Kemp, Reggie Slack, Henry Burris, Marvin Graves, Nealon Greene, Kevin Glenn, Burris again and Kerry Joseph.
As then-head coach Danny Barrett once said: “There’s been a whole lot of quarterbacks who have come through here without a winning record.” And the few who did, didn’t give Rider fans the impression that they REALLY wanted to be here.
After helping snap the Riders 11-year playoff-less string of 1977-1987, Burgess left town for more playing time and promptly led the hated Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a Grey Cup championship.
Austin rarely spent time in Regina when he didn’t have to, got sick of the heckling in the fishbowl and used the 1993-1994 off-season to get out of town as fast as he could, demanding a trade that landed him with the B.C. Lions.
The few and far between franchise quarterbacks who did bring Rider fans something to get excited about didn’t give you the warm and fuzzies and seemed more interested in being someplace else.
That explains the devastation Rider Nation felt that late winter morning in 2005 when they woke up to the headline: HE’S GONE in the Regina Leader-Post. There was a photo of Burris wearing a Calgary Stampeders jersey and cowboy hat not long after spending a winter living in Regina chatting with the locals at Agribition.
Hank was a farm kid from Oklahoma who genuinely made you feel like there was no place he’d rather be than Regina, Saskatchewan. Joseph wanted to be here, too, but it wasn’t quite the same as it was with Hank.
Durant dove in head first and it was a breath of fresh air. But it didn’t take him long to get into arguments with fans sassing him on social media or to beef with coaches like Doug Berry and Chris Jones.
By the end of it all, Durant became very thin-skinned and even alienated some of his most loyal fans. And that’s why Fajardo is so important to the Roughriders.
When he’s at a Rush game in the off-season or telling media in Nevada how much he can’t wait to get back to Saskatchewan or eating corn dogs at the Queen City Ex to reading what the locals say about him on social media, it’s a big fat giant reminder that CODY IS ONE OF US or at least pretends to be.
Collaros might’ve won that West Final but he never wrapped his arms around ‘the 306’ the way Fajardo has. When Fajardo gets emotional about how he’s treated by the fans, it’s because he cares.
It would be easy for the rest of us to judge and scoff at Fajardo for reading that nonsense to begin with if he wasn’t constantly being reminded to go home after practice and do nothing.
He rolled into the pressure-cooker that is being quarterback of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, put up a historic win percentage, won over his teammates and put up with the incarceration of complying with the COVID rules so we could even have a season to watch.
Is Fajardo open to criticism for not making better chicken salad with some of his receivers? You bet.
Can Fajardo be mocked for not winning Sunday despite his own defence gift-wrapping him all those turnovers? Absolutely.
Should Fajardo be labelled as ‘overrated’ when teammates Ed Gainey, Nick Marshall and Loucheiz Purifoy are the real straws that stir the drink? Perhaps.
But Rider fans can never accuse Fajardo of not caring or not wanting to be ‘one of us’. And if history is our guide, that matters a whole lot around the prairies.