Grey Cups won after moving on from Saskatchewan: ex-Roughriders help Blue Bombers win back-to-back CFL championships

Photo courtesy: CFL

The only thing that hurts Riders fans worse than a Blue Bombers Grey Cup championship is knowing it happened with players grown in their own backyard.

No fewer than eight former Saskatchewan Roughriders played key roles in Winnipeg’s 2019 and 2021 Grey Cup titles.

Given the fact it could be argued it was the Riders who gave the Blue Bombers their stiffest challenge on both occasions, it’s possible that these men were the difference from Winnipeg celebrating back-to-back Grey Cups and Rider Nation earning their first ever two-in-row championship run:

Willie Jefferson is undoubtedly the greatest defensive player in the Canadian Football League and he might even be the greatest PLAYER currently in the CFL. He’s a Chris Jones loyalist who won a championship with his old head coach with Edmonton back in 2015 followed Jones to Saskatchewan a year later following a tryout in the NFL.

Once Jones bolted for the NFL prior to free agency in 2019, the dynamic defensive end chose to move to Winnipeg. The results have been staggering as the Roughriders’ pass rush has continued to be relentless but the dominant presence and fan favourite sizzle that Jefferson brought has been badly missed in Regina.

Zach Collaros was supposed to be the quarterback piece to Jones’ Grey Cup puzzle in Saskatchewan. Concussions, including one induced by a cheap-shot hit from ex-teammate Simoni Lawrence put a stop to any of that. On the surface, it never looked like Collaros was really all that comfy with living in the fishbowl of Regina, anyway.

He put up some decent numbers and led the Riders to a 12-win season in 2018 — their best in a decade — but even that was credited more to a dominant defence than anything Collaros or his offence did.

Lingering effects from concussions kept Collaros out of the Riders’ playoff loss to Winnipeg that fall and he never did play another regular season game at home for the Green and White. The emergence of Cody Fajardo the following year made Collaros expendable, but it sure doesn’t look that way now.

Stanley Bryant has been a mainstay offensive lineman in the CFL since 2010 including the past six seasons with Winnipeg. The league’s three-time Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman has made the all-star team five times and he’s done it while protecting Collaros’ blind side as the Blue Bombers’ starting left tackle.

That just so happens to be a position of weakness for the Riders that held their passing attack back greatly in 2021. What most people probably don’t know is that it was the Riders who turned Bryant down after he failed his physical in 2009. Needless to say, the Roughriders are still paying for the mistake of a previous regime.

Nic Demski was the Riders’ first-round pick as receiver in 2015 and never did play much of a role in his first two seasons. Both were miserable campaigns for Saskatchewan, combining for eight wins and 28 losses as they transitioned from Corey Chamblin to Jones.

The offence was pretty anemic on the prairies but it all started to look up in 2017 when Demski played a key role for new quarterback Kevin Glenn in helping open up the new Mosaic Stadium.

Demski led the Riders’ receiving group in the first-ever regular season game at the new park and scored a touchdown against his future Winnipeg teammates on Canada Day in a losing cause. A broken foot on Labour Day Weekend killed any chance of Demski breaking out in his third season with Saskatchewan.

It wasn’t to be as the University of Manitoba alum moved back to join his hometown Blue Bombers the following off-season. Although Demski has yet to have a 1,000-yard season, his role has grown and it’s hard to imagine his presence wouldn’t have helped Fajardo kick-start a sluggish Rider offence in 2021.

Richie Hall has spent most of his adult life living in Regina employed by the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Green and White have won four Grey Cups in the more-than-100 year history of the franchise with Hall being part of three of them.

This adds to the irony that it has been his defence who has terrorized the Green and White in the playoffs not once, not twice but three times in as many playoff games going back to 2018.

It was Chamblin who took away Hall’s defensive play-calling privileges prior to a playoff loss in Edmonton in 2014. He was out of work only a few months later when he landed on his feet in another province a few hours to the east.

In the six seasons since then, Hall has solidified his presence as the greatest defensive mind in the Canadian Football League while Chamblin has posted a not-quite-as-stellar 4-23 regular season head coaching record for the Riders and Argos combined.

Patrick Neufeld was a fifth-round pick of the Riders out of the University of Saskatchewan in 2010 and was with the team for three years before being traded to Winnipeg. The Green and White got a good return for the blocker — defensive end Alex Hall helped them win a Grey Cup in 2013 — but Neufeld has been great in Bomberland.

Neufeld was named a CFL all-star in 2021 for his play at guard and tackle, starting 13 regular season games. The Regina native has started 82 games for Winnipeg since he was acquired via trade, helping secure their offensive line.

Jermarcus Hardrick joined Saskatchewan partway through the 2015 season following a stint with the B.C. Lions. He started eight games for the Green and White but was cut before the 2016 season got underway.

Oops! The 31-year-old has now been the right tackle in Winnipeg for five seasons and has played at a high level throughout, earning a West Division all-star nod in 2017 and a CFL all-star nod in 2021.

The Riders have struggled to find consistency at the tackle position over the past five seasons and Hardrick was a perfect in-house option they failed to retain when they had the chance.

Tobi Antigha is a defensive lineman, linebacker, and defensive back who could’ve added depth to a Roughriders’ defence trying to match punches with a generational powerhouse in Winnipeg.

He probably had the least impact of anyone on this list and only joined the Bombers for the 2021 season after a pitstop in Toronto in 2019 following two seasons in Saskatchewan. Still, seeing him win a Grey Cup in blue and gold only adds salt in the wounds of the Roughriders and their fans.

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.