The blood pressure and temperature of the moment having now significantly dropped, Zach Collaros might have perfectly summed up the head butt felt across the Prairies on the weekend.
“It was kind of a ‘What the hell?’ moment,” began Collaros Wednesday while meeting with the media following the first practice since the Labour Day Classic 32-30 overtime loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
That moment – and ‘what the hell’ is certainly a toned-down version of the alternative – saw Roughriders defensive end Pete Robertson headbutt Collaros in the head well after the whistle on an incomplete pass in the fourth quarter. The subsequent penalty then led to a Brady Oliveira touchdown and Winnipeg’s first lead of the game, and then a one-game suspension levied by Canadian Football League headquarters a day later.
That incident continued to dominate the narrative in the days leading up to this Saturday’s rematch in the Banjo Bowl at IG Field, and fuel further discussions about how the penalty was missed by the officiating crew – the command centre in Toronto stepped in to issue the infraction – as well as what steps the league could implement to ensure the safety of all players, including quarterbacks.
First, Collaros on the one-game suspension and whether he thought it was just:
“It’s hard for a player to say. I’ll say speaking about it after the game you never want to advocate for somebody to lose a paycheque or anything like that. Again, we’ve gone over this enough times, a lot of us here, with some of the decisions that get made with protecting the quarterbacks in the league.
“Again, couple that with kind of the shock and anger from the moment and obviously upset with losing… you don’t want to advocate for someone to lose their pay, but I just felt in that moment something needed to be said.”
It’s true, Collaros has been vocal about this in the past and indirectly that was obviously part of the anger he expressed in the moment after Sunday’s loss. He said Wednesday he’s never had an opportunity to discuss his concerns with the league or the CFL Players’ Association, indicating he has spoken to his team’s union reps in the past, but never with the league.
As to what he would say if given the chance, Collaros paused for a moment.
“I’d have to think it through a little,” he said. “‘Argument’ isn’t the right word, but I’d have to cover all the bases. Again, you’re not advocating to take money out of people’s pockets (with a fine), it’s just to protect the position.
“We talked about it last year with the Jeremiah Masoli episode (when his season was ended on a low hit by then-Roughrider Garrett Marino) – you want to keep the players on the field. Just because I’m a quarterback I’m not saying this, the NFL does it, the CFL should as well. You want to keep the quarterbacks on the field. It just kind of is what it is.”
He also added this about Robertson: “I don’t think Pete’s a dirty player at all. He’s always been somebody I think is a pro to go up against. He probably let the moment get the best of him.”
Collaros did tip his hat to the Roughriders for their work on Sunday, particularly Saskatchewan’s defensive unit, while clearly pining for a second crack at them this weekend.
“It’s a big game. Everybody’s moving forward,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t have the result we wanted out there. Hat’s off to Sask for playing a good game, especially defensively. Offensively, we didn’t execute at a high enough level. I felt like we left a lot of plays out there, but a lot of it was either miscommunication or Sask making a good play, so hat’s off to them for it.”
Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea was also vocal about the headbutt immediately after the loss on Sunday, questioning how the process was handled in the moment by the officiating crew and the command centre. He also said he has not had his concerns clarified by the league yet, but “I trust that it will be.”
“If you want to curb that behaviour, I think there needs to be an immediate response… Officials have said they have a hard time ejecting someone because it’s a big outcome. It can affect a game and the officials don’t want to have that; they want to officiate a game without determining the outcomes and ejecting a player – in their mind – could have a big effect on the outcome of a game. Like we said, if we want to get the behaviour corrected that would be an easy step to get it done.”
Blue Bombers guard Pat Neufeld was fuming in the moment after seeing the headbutt, but tried to maintain his composure hoping a penalty would push the club closer to the end zone.
“My immediate reaction at the time is it should be a flag, that’s what I was yelling at,” he said Wednesday. “And then it’s just anger. You try to keep as cool as you can, but when you see something like that happen it’s hard not to get extremely worked up and pissed off. Thankfully we had a penalty that allowed us to score a touchdown.
“It’s really hard (to stay cool). It’s tough when you see someone take a shot at your quarterback like that. The league talks about trying to protect the quarterback and then something like that happens. You’re pissed off and you try and take it out on the next play.”
Critical now for the Blue Bombers is to channel that anger and frustration – both from the head butt and their own choppy play – into something positive and meaningful in the Banjo Bowl.
“I’m very critical of myself and coming off a loss like that I definitely keep parts of it with me,” said receiver Kenny Lawler. “I hold it and put a little chip on my shoulder. I’m probably about 90 percent done with that game, but there’s about 10 percent I hold back for that motivation factor.
“I’m always one to say it’s never what our opponent does, it’s what we failed to do, what we failed to execute. We put ourselves in that position to lose in overtime by shooting ourselves in the foot before that. It’s very frustrating. Now we’ve just got to continue to work, learn from our mistakes and them come out to practice to correct them.”
More news and notes from the first practice day of the week in NEED TO KNOW…
The Blue Bombers first injury report of the week:
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) September 6, 2023
NEW BLUE BLOOD:
The club added four players to the practice roster on Wednesday, adding DB Tyrique McGhee (5-10, Georgia) and DE Nate Givhan (6-2, 239, Toledo) – both of whom were previously with the club – along with receiver Ravi Alston (6-3, 209, Montana State) and WR/KR Ronnie Blackmon (5-9, 186, West Georgia).
Blackmon, FYI, took a lot of turns returning punts on Wednesday. He led the UWG Wolves in punt returns last year as a senior.
A lot of e-mails and social media questions about the Riders two-point conversion in OT on Sunday – a Jake Dolegala pass to Shawn Bane, Jr. near the sidelines. Replays put the conversion into question, and here’s O’Shea’s explanation on what went down:
“It’s a scoring play, they have to review it,” he said. “I truly believe that if it was called incomplete then a challenge wouldn’t overturn it. If it’s called complete, a challenge isn’t going to overturn it. I think there’s enough of the ball sticking out when he goes to the ground – ¾ of the ball is on the ground. Does it move, does it not move? I don’t know. It’s hard, probably, for the official on the field to see and typically around the goal area the operation is such that you call what you see and if you’re ever in doubt you call it points and then let the command centre review all points – if you call it incomplete, there has to be a challenge to review it.”
Receiver Nic Demski and RB Brady Oliveira got some love from the CFL with the Week 13 Honour Roll.