July 5, 2024

The Lede: “My motivation is to work hard to be my best for the people in that huddle with me.”

Chris Streveler makes his first start for the Blue Bombers since 2019 tonight against Ottawa -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

Featured prominently just above Chris Streveler’s left knee is a tattoo with the letters ‘FIFO’ and Roman numerals ‘XI-XXIV-MMIX’.

It’s a permanent symbol representing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers storied culture and one of the biggest moments in franchise history — November 24, 2019 and the Grey Cup championship that ended a long absence from the winner’s circle.

Streveler’s fingerprints were all over that run as a spot starter at quarterback a dozen times over two years as he instantly endeared himself to fans with his wrecking-ball style of play and his absolute pure joy for the game.

All of that, of course, was captured perfectly in one afternoon — the day of the 2019 Grey Cup parade — when he became part of this town’s sporting folklore by donning a fur coat, a cowboy hat and two-fisting beers throughout the entire celebration.

Not long after, he and a few teammates lined up for the ‘FIFO’ tattoos. A few months later his days in Winnipeg seemed over when he headed south to the Arizona Cardinals and spent the next four years bouncing from one opportunity to another in the National Football League.

Here we are now just shy of five years later and Streveler will be sliding behind centre for the first snap tonight against the Ottawa RedBlacks. His job description hasn’t changed — as head coach Mike O’Shea put it Thursday Streveler will be asked to “play well. Distribute the football. Make good decisions. Lead — all the things he’s quite capable of doing and we’ve seen him do in the past and which helped us win football games in the past.”

What has changed is Streveler’s maturation after his four years away from Winnipeg and the Blue Bombers. He chased his NFL dream and made it, even if it was short-lived in some stops. He spent time with QB stars like Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa and certainly lived every minute of the reality of the NFL and how ‘The League’ does business.

All of that shaped Streveler, aged him, made him wiser and — as he explained Thursday — also made him so much more appreciative of opportunities like this start against Ottawa.

“It is a little bit surreal,” said Streveler of his Blue Bombers sequel. “Time goes fast. I can’t believe how fast five years has gone and there’s so many guys who are in that locker room who were on that 2019 team that have the same tattoo. That’s our culture, that’s our mindset within that locker room. Again, I’m just very, very thankful to be here with these guys and part of this organization. I’m just excited.

“When I first was playing up here I started my first three games, so I didn’t truly understand how rare it is to get to start a game as a professional quarterback because I just did it. I didn’t know. And then I get away from here for five years and I don’t start a game. I’m playing in spot time, a little relief duty, some clean-up duty in the preseason. You learn to appreciate these opportunities — how rare it is and how special it is to get to step into a huddle with grown men and get to play a football game.

“That’s what’s really changed about me mentally since the last time I was here — the appreciation for getting to do this,” he added. “That’s why I used the word ‘opportunity’ because I know it’s not given. A lot of people would love the opportunity to go start a professional football game and I’m fortunate enough to be able to do that this week so I don’t take that lightly.”

The injury to Zach Collaros doesn’t appear to be something that will keep him out for too long — he’s listed as the No. 3 pivot behind Streveler and Terry Wilson, but will not dress. The hope is he’ll be back practising next week.

In the meantime, what Streveler is tasked with is helping breathe life into a Blue Bombers offence ravaged by injuries to the receiving corps and struggling to establish any sign of a consistent ground game.

“He brings energy, bro. The guy’s an energy ball,” said receiver Drew Wolitarsky, who has known Streveler since their days as teammates at the University of Minnesota. “You see it on film. He’s not the kind of guy who is going to cower from a hit, he’s going to lay the wood on people.

“The guy just loves the game so much and he’s been wanting to play for years. That gives him a little edge. He’s been wanting to play for so long and for him to come back here to this fan base and this team and guys he knows well… it electrifies him and inspires him. He comes with so much energy. He’s going to fly around and create havoc, bro.

“He knows this opportunity is big and this is something he’s wanted. He came back to the CFL wanting to play and be a starter so for him this is exactly where he wants to be.”

Where Streveler wants to be right now — where he’s always tried to be even back during his rookie season — is staying in this moment. He spoke Thursday of finding joy just in being able to strap on the helmet and run out for practice every day.

So, to this notion that he needs a jaw-dropping performance to prove he can be a QB1 in this league and silence doubters? That he wants to step up and prove he’s more than just the guy with the fur coat, cowboy hat and a beer in each hand at the Grey Cup parade?

A complete and utter waste of his time and energy. That’s simply not what he’s about.

“I don’t worry about other people. I’m not here to prove myself to anybody,” he said. “I’m not anything like that. I’m here to play hard for my teammates and try to win football games. I don’t care what other people have to say about me.

“I know who I am and that’s what’s important to me. And my teammates know the effort I’m going to give and the energy I’m going to bring and that’s all that matters to me. I’m not here to prove myself to anybody or prove anybody wrong or anything like that. I’m just here to play the game and appreciate these moments with my teammates and fight as hard as I can to try and win games.”

Streveler likely would have said the exact same thing four-five years ago. Yet, it’s about perspective, too, and there’s a saying that ‘when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.’

And Streveler certainly looks at this start differently than he would have his last.

“I’m just at a different stage of my career,” he said. “I feel secure in who I am as a person. I feel proud of the things I’ve been able to do in this game and the places I’ve been able to go so I don’t feel like I have to validate myself outside of this building. I only care what people in this building think about me and my loved ones and my family. Those are the people I’m always looking to honour when I step on the field and that’s my motivation.

“My motivation to work hard to be my best for the people in that huddle with me. It’s not about anyone that’s not in there with me.”