HAMILTON — Zach Collaros won a Grey Cup ring in his first CFL season. He also watched that game from the press box as the Toronto Argonauts’ third-string quarterback.
Things have changed a great deal in the 11 years since.
Collaros will be under centre for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers when they face the Montreal Alouettes in Sunday’s Grey Cup. It’s Winnipeg’s fourth consecutive appearance in the CFL championship game, and Collaros will be going for his fourth ring, including the one he earned without strapping on the pads back in 2012.
The American quarterback said he can remember every detail of his first Grey Cup week.
“Not knowing anything about the Grey Cup, but being in Toronto and going around a lot of different restaurants and the different parties during the week and figuring out that this is a celebration of the country,” Collaros recalled Thursday. “The longer I’ve been in the CF, I’ve understood how important it is to the fabric of the country.
“I think every year it’s grown, but 2012 was certainly an eye-opening scene.”
Collaros has thrown 184 touchdowns and 28,599 passing yards on 2,222 completions over 11 CFL seasons with Toronto, Winnipeg, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Saskatchewan Roughriders. The 35-year-old also has 1,155 rushing yards and 10 TDs on the ground.
He’s practically become Mr. Grey Cup since being dealt to the Blue Bombers at the 2019 trade deadline.
Collaros led Winnipeg to a championship that year, and has helped bring the Blue Bombers back to the Grey Cup in 2021, 2022 and now 2023, with another title won in 2021. He also earned back-to-back nods as the CFL’s most outstanding player in 2021 and 2022.
Those accolades aside, Collaros feels he’s still learning the game.
“There’s plays that you always want back, win or lose in those games,” he said. “You learn from those the day after, and then that long stretch in between.
“You take that stuff to work out in the off-season and then you move forward.”
Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea said Collaros came into the CFL ready to lead any locker room.
“We go back to when we were fortunate enough to get him in a trade,” said O’Shea. “(He has the) ability to step in the locker room and make everybody comfortable and lead in his own way and win.
“I believe he’s really the only guy that could have done that.”
O’Shea said that as much as he appreciates the intangibles Collaros brings to Winnipeg off the field, there are real gifts he brings on it.
“He’s strong. He’s got exceptional lower-body strength, he’s athletic, he moves around extremely well,” said O’Shea. “He can make every throw on the board. He’s got good anticipation and good vision.
“I think he has all the attributes that would put you at the top in that position.”
Collaros, who could have become a free agent back in February, inked a three-year extension with the Blue Bombers in October 2022. Receiver Nic Demski said the Collaros extension led to him re-signing with the team.
“We have a lot of great teammates,” Demski said after practice at Tim Hortons Field. “But when Zach signed that three-year deal, I was like, ‘I want to be here for three years, too.'”
— With files from Neil Davidson.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press