HAMILTON – “Cody Fajardo,” Danny Maciocia answered when asked Saturday which player could surprise us during the Gray Cup game. It became the final detail of an incredible year for the Montreal Alouettes.
While we were talking freely, during the Alouettes simulated practice, with the Alouettes general manager we wanted to get his prediction. We didn’t want him to be among the expected heroes like Darnell Sankey, Marc-Antoine Dequoy or Shawn Lemon.
After thinking for a few seconds, Maciocia took aim at Fajardo. His argument was simple, he was convinced by what Fajardo announced during this week of preparation in Hamilton.
Maciocia did not dare to predict this performance of the defender, but we have to believe that his eyes did not deceive him. From our position as a journalist, we observed good – and not so good – segments of Fajardo in training.
We especially remembered the part of the training session of working in the paid zone. It was painful for number 7, who proved on Sunday that he can excel in difficult moments.
What we didn’t know was that Fajardo had just given a pep talk to his team before this mock drill. A message that was so inspiring that some players had tears in their eyes.
So for Kristian Matteo, the oldest member of the team at 38, it was nothing surprising to see Fajardo fight until the last second.
“I said this week, Cody is very strong mentally and physically. He never gave up, he wanted a championship for his teammates. And we equally wanted to win it for him. With this group of brothers, we will remember it for the rest of our lives,” said Matte on the court after the victory, as his daughter held his hand with an angelic smile.
A few minutes earlier, Fajardo had just completed an incredible attacking streak that no critic can take away from him. The 31-year-old American didn’t have the pleasure of seeing all of Tyson Philpot’s game-winning touchdown, but he’ll be able to recover by watching it as many times as he wants with his loved ones.
“I got hit and I didn’t see the end of the game clearly, but I heard the crowd’s reaction! I’m so proud of our team. All year our offensive line has been under fire and they played a fantastic game stopping two of the best players. You’ll also remember our receivers,” said Fajardo, who held his son in one hand and his MVP trophy in the other after the game.
Released by the Saskatchewan Roughriders after the 2022 season, Fajardo would never have regained this confidence without the support of Jason Maas. The Alouettes head coach, also fired by the Riders, has proven to be an exceptional leader in his first season in Montreal.
“To win a game like this, you realize you’re going to need all three aspects. I’m really proud of the attack, but also of all the players. It was great to see this group play for each other. We played for Montreal and Quebec. This aspect of playing for others is powerful,” replied Maas, who found several ways to motivate his troops.
By a coincidence that cannot be made up, Maas celebrated his 48th birthday on Sunday, while the team allowed him to embrace the most beautiful gift for the first time as a head coach.
A big hug with my sonThe bear was also very dear in his eyes since the conclusion of the match. It all ended with the team singing “Happy Birthday” to him in the locker room where the scents of cigars and champagne mingled, but above all of victory.
However, the passes came from the hand of Fajardo and we should not take away a drop of credit from him. Sweet revenge for one who surprised so many observers with his best performance of the year (three touchdown passes and 290 yards).
“All week people wanted to talk about our defense and special teams for good reason. That took the pressure off our offensive unit so we had nothing to lose. We haven’t scored a touchdown in 26 drives against Winnipeg this year. I also always heard about my 0-9 record against (Zach) Collaros, that really motivated me,” Fajardo admitted without arrogance.
After such an evening, it is impossible to know whether his young son will want to follow his father’s path to professional football. But we realized that Fajardo was inspired by his youth.
“I just wanted this last chance at the end of the game, I wanted the ball like I dreamed of when I was little. You have to believe it was fate with everything I’ve been through. I felt like I had already lived this moment in my head,” concluded the affable Fajardo.