Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros looks for a receiver during CFL West Semifinal football action agaiinst thhe Calgary Stampeders, in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
It was this past February, a few months after he had been part of the historic Winnipeg Blue Bombers run to Grey Cup glory, when Darvin Adams scratched his name onto a three-year contract extension.
And while his fingerprints were prominent in the championship run, he had called his regular season ‘mediocre’, vowing to get his game back and finish his career in Bombers colours.
It’s interesting then, isn’t it, how the first two instalments in our ’10 Plays That Made A Champion’ series involve Adams and Zach Collaros – the quarterback he seemed to develop an instant chemistry with from the moment the veteran pivot arrived in Winnipeg at the Canadian Football League’s trade deadline.
Turns out their chemistry might have begun percolating as far back as 2013 when Adams, fresh from a stint with the Virginia Destroyers of the United Football League, arrived at Toronto Argonauts training camp.
The Argos were Ricky Ray’s team then, but a young quarterback in his second year and with just four games under his belt was about to introduce himself to the rest of the CFL.
“I remember when Darvin came in,” began Collaros in a chat with bluebombers.com for this series. “I just remember this quiet dude from Mississippi. If you recall with those teams we had a lot of veteran receivers that could play. But I remember throwing to Darv on the scout team and thinking he was a special player. Obviously, I remembered him from playing with Cam Newton at Auburn, too.
“Then when Teddy Goveia (Bombers Assistant GM/Director of Player Personnel) and Mike (O’Shea) came over to Winnipeg from Toronto (in 2014) they had kept an eye on him and were smart to nab him.”
Signing with the Bombers as a free agent, Adams has spent five years in Winnipeg, posting 1K seasons in 2017 and 2018 and pulling in 34 touchdown passes.
“My first preseason game with Zach when we were in Toronto was actually in Winnipeg,” Adams said. “Honestly, right away I just liked the way he came into the huddle. He gave guys a chance to make plays. He really won me over in my rookie year in Toronto just by his effort. But he’d come into the huddle and say ‘who wants the ball?’ I mean, as a receiver who doesn’t want to hear that?
“When we were in Toronto I didn’t play, but I got to know him in practice. That made it easier for us to connect quickly when he got to Winnipeg, not just on the field, but off the field.”
So, there was a Collaros-Adams connection even before the two were reunited in Winnipeg. And it certainly didn’t take long for the two to team up for some of the most memorable moments in the Grey Cup run.
We outlined the first play from the regular season finale, and when the Bombers stepped onto the field again in the West Semi-Final in Calgary a couple of weeks later, the two were back making magic again at a critical juncture.
The Bombers had regrouped after a 14-5 deficit late in the first half and had taken an 18-14 lead into the fourth quarter. Still, given Winnipeg’s history in Calgary – the team was 5-28 in games at McMahon dating back to 1990 – no one was thinking about anything but the next snap.
And then a kill-shot of sorts, delivered as Collaros connected with Adams on a 71-yard touchdown.
“We were in second-and-long (2nd-and-12) and when you play so long in this league you know that teams have tendencies, especially in down and distances like that,” Collaros explained. “You watch so much film, you go against these guys so many times you can tell body language.
“Right before the snap happened I took a sneak at Smitty (Stampeders defensive back Brandon Smith) real fast and he was doing his normal backpedal for a north-south cut. So, I’m like, ‘OK, we have a chance here…’
“Really in my mind – because it was second and 15 – I’m thinking about just not making a bad play worse. You don’t want to turn the ball over and we have a great punter and the best special teams in the league. Let’s defer to them, but still give Darvin a shot.”
Matt Nichols had a similar connection with Adams, too. Yet sometimes, even in a playoff game, a quarterback simply gives those around him a chance to do their thing. Safe is death, as the saying goes, and Collaros and Adams loved the play dialled up by then-offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice.
“When I heard the play call I knew I was going to get a chance to make a play on the ball,” said Adams, “and you get excited about it because that play is really designed for me to catch the ball.
“One-on-one coverage against one of the best corners in the league (Tre Roberson) and Zach placed the ball perfectly and I just did my job as a receiver to score.”
The untold plot twist here is this: that play had essentially been removed from the Bombers’ playbook.
“It’s a play we had run before in 2010-12 and when I came back in ’16 it was something we ran, and we ran it in ’17,” said LaPolice in a telephone interview with bluebombers.com from Ottawa this week. “But in 2018 after study, Buck (QBs coach Pierce, now the offensive coordinator) and I decided we were not going to run this play. We didn’t think it was efficient enough and we thought we were living on past successes.
“In 2019 it was not in our game plan at all. It was not called at all, all year. Then in our practice that week we saw that this concept – a double-post concept – was probably available. I said to Buck, ‘You’re going to call me a jerk because I’m the one who took the play out. But if we run this play, I think we’ve got a chance. We can get behind that corner.’
“We had not called it all year. We talked to Zach about it, we put it in. There’s nothing brilliant about it, but we called it once in the entire year and it hit for a touchdown.”
“The ball got there, thankfully,” added Collaros with a chuckle. “I mean, it was freezing that day and so I’m thinking, ‘Ah, shit, I’ve really got to crank this one up there.’ Darvin made a heckuva move after the catch. I mean, he’s so underrated. I know you guys have been watching him for a long time, but I don’t think he gets the respect he deserves. He was able to catch it, put his foot in the ground and then cut across the field.
“That was a pretty cool moment.”
‘Cool’ just begins to properly describe it. The score energized a Bombers squad that had sensed a momentum shift. This great Stampeders dragon which had blowtorched so many Bombers teams over the years was wounded, and it was time to fell the beast.
“Funny thing about that play is I remember throwing it, but I didn’t really see what happened after that,” Collaros admitted. “But the stadium got real quiet and usually when you’re on the road that means something good has happened.
“I took a peek around the offensive linemen in front of me and then just started running down the sidelines celebrating. I thought to myself, ‘That’s huge. We’ve got this one now.’”