The Montreal Alouettes were spurred to victory in the 110th Grey Cup thanks to some colourful language from their usually straight-laced quarterback.
Cody Fajardo was named the Most Valuable Player of the Alouettes’ 28-24 upset over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday night in Hamilton, leading an eight-play, 83-yard game-winning drive in the final two minutes. According to his teammates, the 30-year-old signal caller’s most impactful moment actually came a day earlier, when he gave a fiery address ahead of the team’s Saturday walkthrough.
“(He) gave us one of the greatest speeches I’ve ever heard in my life,” star receiver Austin Mack said in the locker room. “Everybody, from that moment forth, knew that we were going to win and we knew that our quarterback was gonna ride with us, regardless of what was going to happen.”
“The speech that he gave yesterday before the walkthrough was so inspirational, there were people that left the meeting in tears — including a few that I’d like to name but I think they’d be embarrassed if I did name them,” echoed general manager Danny Maciocia. “It was touching, it was moving, and you just felt something magical about that speech, where he was going with it and the way it galvanized everybody in that meeting room.”
Canadian receiver Tyson Philpot, who was named Most Valuable Canadian after hauling in the deciding touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining, was unashamed to admit the emotional response that the speech elicited in him.
“I had tears after that meeting and I had goosebumps,” he said at the podium. “All the belief was in that locker room all year. We heard all the naysayers and everybody told us that we weren’t going to get to the Cup and we were ninth-ranked at the start of the season. We didn’t need any other belief except what was in this locker room.”
Fajardo finished the game 21-of-26 for 290 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception while carrying twice for 18 more yards on the ground. The Alouettes trailed until the fourth quarter when he tossed two scores, jumping in front each time.
Basking in the glow of his first championship win as a starter, Fajardo acknowledged that his impromptu speech made a significant impact on the mood of the team.
“I said some things there that were weighing on my chest. I’m not really a vocal guy, I talk a lot to the offence but not in front of the team,” he explained. “Coach Maas opened the floor, I went up there and I gave a very passionate speech to the guys, just told them how much it meant to me that they have my back and all the people that doubted us. Apparently, people listened and it fired them up.”
While most players declined to give details of what was shared in the private team meeting, veteran defensive tackle Almondo Sewell captured the jist of the message.
“He said, ‘F***ing watch us,'” he grinned. “Coach Maas ain’t never heard Cody cuss before. That was the first time.”
“It’s almost difficult for someone to outswear Jason (Maas),” Maciocia added. “He outswore him yesterday.”
A peppering of f-bombs would not be out of place in most pre-game speeches, but Fajardo’s clean-cut, ‘sprinkle of Jesus’ persona has been the trademark of his CFL career. The quarterback utilizing profanity would have been nearly unconscionable during his previous tenure with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but he knew that his new team would need a little more to upset the heavily favoured Bombers.
“I knew if I said ‘frick’ and ‘frack,’ it’s not gonna deliver the same,” Fajardo said, noting that he made his head coach proud. “I had to fully commit, I fully committed and I think the guys appreciated that.”
Unceremoniously run out of Regina after finishing the 2022 season with seven straight losses, Fajardo seriously contemplated retirement before landing with his former offensive coordinator Maas in Montreal. Despite limited interest from other teams and speculation that his time as a starter was done, the organization committed to the Nevada product with a two-year contract.
After he led the Alouettes to their best regular-season record since the retirement of Anthony Calvillo, pulled off one of the greatest playoff upsets in CFL history over the 16-2 Toronto Argonauts in the East Final, and delivered a stunning Grey Cup win in his first season, Maciocia now believes he short-changed Fajardo in free agency.
“Thinking about it now, I should have signed him to three,” he laughed.
“Cody is a quality football player who just needed to be in the right environment, an environment that believes in people. Life is not what you accomplish, it’s what you overcome, and he’s overcome so much.”
The quarterback’s redemption story has rallied his teammates around him, embedding his unexpected expletive-laced rallying cry in their underdog psyche.
“I’m just so damn thankful and happy for him,” Mack said. “That man was a scapegoat six months ago. That man was seen as the bottom of the pinnacle of quarterbacks.”
For now, the tape of their inspired Grey Cup performance will have to serve as the only testament to Fajardo’s impact, with the pivot’s deeply personal message shared only between the men smoking cigars and sipping champagne in Hamilton. However, the newest addition to the annals of iconic championship speeches may not stay private forever.
“The good thing is there were a lot of cameras in there, so maybe one day it’ll come out and people can see it,” Fajardo beamed.
“When I walked off the stage, the amount of applause I got, and the people fired up, and the guys wanting to play that day just goes to show that everybody in that room believed in me and that’s all I needed to know that we can win this football game.”