MISSISSAUGA, ON. – Truthfully, it’s not the type of conversation Zach Collaros seems to want to engage in at any time because it comes across as so self-indulgent.
And that reluctance is only cranked up by a zillion if the topic is broached on the eve of the next game on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ schedule.
The all-star quarterback has final prep work to do, after all, and even after all these years of doing his weekly day-before-the-game media sessions, they have about as much appeal to him as a session in the dentist’s chair. The latest confirmation of the above came in the Centre of the Universe on Friday, not long after the Blue Bombers arrived at their team hotel in advance of Saturday’s matchup with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field.
Scattered in among the usual questions about matching up against the Ticats defence etc., etc., yours truly asked Collaros if – in the wake of last week’s Banjo Bowl win in which he threw for five touchdowns – he allows himself to take a step back and marvel at that game and all the success he’s had since his arrival in Winnipeg.
“Maybe when we’re done playing,” he said. “I think you just think about the ones you didn’t get. I think that’s how we’re all wired and that’s probably why we all get along so well. We’ll reflect on that, on all those things, at the end of the season. We still have a long way to go to get to where we want to be.”
“… You don’t take it for granted, but you want to live in the moment. That’s how we try to treat every single day, whether that’s studying tape in the building, practising, or just spending time with my family – I really want to be in the moment and, like I said, when our careers are done, we can look back at stuff like that.
“We’re enjoying every moment together and just trying to get better every day.”
That’s the kind of answer you’d expect from the club’s always-team-first/humble leader. Still, some numbers just to reinforce why Bomber Nation should all hail the work of Collaros & Co.:
- The club has been to three straight Grey Cups with him behind centre, winning in 2019 and 2021. Over that span the Blue Bombers are 41-8 in games Collaros has started, including playoffs.
- He is 35-7 in regular-season games, a remarkable number that has seen him rocket up the franchise wins list. Consider this list of Blue Bombers QB regular season wins, for context:
- Ken Ploen, 1957-67 – 135 starts; 82-52-1 record
- Dieter Brock, 1974-83 – 120 starts; 71-48-1
- Khari Jones, 2000-04 – 73 starts; 44-28-1
- Tom Clements, 1983-87 – 60 starts; 41-18-1
- Matt Nichols, 2015-19 – 60 starts; 39-21-0
- Jack Jacobs, 1950-54 – 62 starts; 38-21-3
- Zach Collaros, 2019-23 – 42 starts; 35-7-0
- Kevin Glenn, 2004-08 – 73 starts; 35-37-1
- And one more – Collaros already ranks eighth in franchise history with 86 TD passes, behind only Brock (177), Jones (139), Ploen (119), Jacobs (104), Glenn (103), Clements (102) and Nichols (89).
And so, while Collaros might stiff arm all the accolades coming his way, there are plenty others – everyone in the Blue Bombers organization – who will gladly step up to wave the banner for him.
“He’s not only piling up the numbers, he’s amazing,” said head coach Mike O’Shea on Friday. “He’s exactly what this team needs in terms of the combination of grit and determination, toughness and skill and leadership. He’s got a real great style to him that this group responds to.
“Zach is great for our team. He’s been excellent. Once again, he’s exactly what we need. He’s a great player, tremendous leader for us. I think everybody on our team considers him the best in the league.”
The last few weeks have been a snapshot of exactly that. By now most fans have read and heard about how his post-game speech after the Labour Day Classic loss snapped everyone to attention and set the tone for the Banjo Bowl blowout. On a team stacked with leaders who command that kind of respect, Collaros’ voice might be the most influential.
“He’s helped me grow in so many ways,” said receiver Drew Wolitarsky. “It’s just his work ethic and how he approaches the game. I don’t know if it was how he was raised, or because he’s Greek or whatever, but he’s a workhorse, man.”
“He also knows what’s important and what’s not. He’s not going to waste time or spend all this extra energy worrying about things. It’s just the way he approaches the game. He deals with what’s in the moment.
“That’s confidence and he should have lots of confidence with what he’s done. He trusts us and we really are a tight knit group. He puts a lot of faith in us and that helps when we’re in those grinding times. He doesn’t try to force things, he’s not worrying about you doing the wrong thing, he’s not yelling at you. He knows he’s human, he knows we’re human and mistakes are going to happen. He’s not a perfectionist like that which you might think he is because of the way he plays, but he’s not. He just goes with the flow, man. Even when things aren’t going well, or he throws a pick or whatever. He’s got a great mind of going where it’s like, ‘You know what? I’ve seen all this before and it really happens one play at a time.’
“He always says that before the game. There’s just a lot of wisdom in that guy.”
More sub-plots and storylines for Blue Bombers fans to keep an eye on in our Game 14 Playbook…
JEFFCOAT DOWN, HABA UP:
The Blue Bombers made a couple of roster adjustments for Saturday, moving defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat to the one-game injured list and promoting Celestin Haba to the active roster, with receiver Jeremy Murphy moved to the six-game injured list and defensive tackle Tanner Schmekel activated.
O’Shea said Jeffcoat wasn’t injured in Thursday’s closed practice, adding “it’s one of those things. You play the long game, too. You’re looking at how we get through this whole thing. This was just the best decision for this week.”
Haba has piled up some stats in his six games this year, including two starts for Jeffcoat in June, with nine tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
“He’s produced,” said O’Shea. “He started the season for us and immediately made some plays. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s stuck with it with the learning process – he’s taken in information and learning. Some of the things you like about Haba aren’t necessarily on the field. He’s got to be one of the happiest guys. I just really enjoy being around him. When you see him in the hallway when you come to work it just makes you feel good.”
Asked about Schmekel, O’Shea added:
“Same thing. He’s worked hard in his role. No one is satisfied with a role that doesn’t seem them playing week in and week out, but he’s certainly been good with it. He’s a pro. He’s learning how to be a pro as a young guy and excited about his opportunity to step back out on the field.”
Haba met with the media on Friday. His best quote: “I live by the motto ‘stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.’
His full interview:
The Blue Bombers halfbacks Evan Holm and Deatrick Nichols and safety Brandon Alexander versus Ticat slotbacks Tim White, Omar Bayless and Tyreik McAllister.
Bayless and McAllister are newcomers, with just eight combined starts between the two of them. White, on the other hand, has 42 career starts and is a dynamic playmaker who is coming off a 180-yard/two TD performance in last week’s win over Ottawa.
WHAT A ‘W’ WOULD MEAN:
For Winnipeg: A playoff spot already secured, the Blue Bombers now want to keep the gap between themselves and the second-place B.C. Lions, who are 8-4 and face Ottawa later Saturday. They’d also like to squelch the narrative that the club doesn’t play well in the games leading into a bye – all three of last year’s losses game in that situation.
For Hamilton: The Ticats have steadied with two wins in their last three games to get to 5-7 and are just two points back of second-place Montreal (in action Friday night). They won in Vancouver on August 26th and a victory over another CFL powerhouse would not just legitimize their recent run, but certainly raise eyebrows across the league.