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Rob Vanstone: Cody Fajardo fans the excitement surrounding Saskatchewan Roughriders

Leader Post logo Leader Post 2019-10-09 Rob Vanstone, Regina Leader-Post
a close up of a person wearing a helmet holding a baseball bat: With Cody Fajardo at quarterback, the Saskatchewan Roughriders have surprisingly ascended to first place in the CFL's West Division. © Mark Taylor With Cody Fajardo at quarterback, the Saskatchewan Roughriders have surprisingly ascended to first place in the CFL's West Division.

There was a genuine line of questioning when Cody Fajardo conducted his latest yak session with the media.

One of the interrogators was a member of the offensive line — centre Dan Clark — who asked his Saskatchewan Roughriders teammate: “When you talk about Regina being home one day, what makes Regina such a good place?”

“I think it’s just all the fans,” the 27-year-old quarterback responded on Tuesday. “They’re all about their football team. They’re all about us as players. Coming out of the game and being able to take pictures with little kids and being able to sign autographs, that’s the stuff I’m going to miss when I’m older.

“And there’s just the family feel. We get that family feel, and I want to be able to raise a family here in an atmosphere that loves my family.”

For that to materialize, Fajardo would have to sign a contract extension — something to which he sounds amenable.

As someone who has rescued the Roughriders’ season while under a one-year contract, he is in line for an extended, enriching deal.

It is difficult to imagine a scenario whereby Fajardo leaves Saskatchewan, considering the phenomenal popularity he enjoys in Rider Nation. He is ideally suited to this market.

Roughriders fans haven’t seen anything, or anyone, quite like this since the early 1950s — back in the day when Regina was dubbed “Dobberville.”

Glenn Dobbs, a former Heisman Trophy candidate, joined the Roughriders in 1951 and instantly took the province by storm.

On a bitterly cold February day, Dobbs was introduced to the people of Saskatchewan at a Quarterback Club gathering. Despite the frigid conditions, people flocked to the Grand Theatre for the occasion.

“I remember thinking, ‘That’ll be nice. There won’t be too many people,’ ” Dobbs recalled in 2002, four years before his death at age 82. “Wouldn’t you know it? The darned place was packed and the lineup outside was a block long.”

So, naturally, Dobbs put on an overcoat, gritted his teeth, and went outside to greet everybody.

When he returned to Regina, shortly before training camp, he helped the fans paint the Taylor Field fence.

Better yet, Dobbs threw 28 touchdown passes — an unfathomable total at the time — in 14 games to help the 1951 Roughriders finish first in the West and earn a Grey Cup berth.

Is it all happening again?

Fajardo, in Year 1 as a Roughrider, has electrified the offence and the team’s fervent fan base.

Unlike Dobbs, Fajardo’s signing with Saskatchewan was a virtual afterthought when the transaction was announced in February.

At the time, the Roughriders had just made a lucrative offer to marquee quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who opted to re-sign with the Calgary Stampeders. Only then did general manager Jeremy O’Day consummate a new deal with veteran quarterback Zach Collaros.

Collaros, who has a history of concussions, absorbed an illegal hit to the head on the Roughriders’ third offensive play of the season. In came Fajardo, who had yet to start a game in his previous three-plus seasons in the CFL.

The loss of the starting quarterback in Week 1 could have been devastating for the Roughriders. Instead, Fajardo has seized an opportunity that he long coveted.

With the cordial Californian at the controls of the offence, the Roughriders are 10-4 — a record that places them atop the West Division entering Friday’s first-place showdown with the host Stampeders.

Rare is the season in which the Roughriders spend any time in the West Division’s penthouse. Since 1976, they have placed first only once — in 2009.

The team’s performance, period, is a story that resonates with people. Factor in the charisma that Fajardo exudes and you have a phenomenon.

“I don’t want to get too wrapped up in it,” he said. “I don’t really read the media too often. I just want to be able to go out there and win football games.

“I want the franchise and the guys up there in the front office to be able to rely on me and trust me in big games. The guys that I line up next to, I want them to know that I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.

“Sometimes it might be dumb, like when I run into a Gatorade thing, but I’m going to give everything I’ve got every single down, because I want the guys to do the same for me.”

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Fajardo emerged unscathed from a sideline collision with a Gatorade container on Saturday, when the Roughriders assumed sole possession of first place by defeating the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers 21-6.

Fortunately, Fajardo did not require any Gator-aid.

Nor does he need an entourage or a disguise. He is delighted to interact with the public when he is out and about in the greater Regina area.

“It’s pretty cool, honestly,” Fajardo said. “I’ve usually got to plan out about a 30-minute trip to the grocery store, because I usually get stopped, but that’s part of being a professional athlete.

“I think that’s what’s so cool about being a professional athlete. In any other job, really, you don’t have that opportunity to interact with everybody and have the support system that we have here. It has been pretty awesome.

“For me, it happened pretty quickly — almost overnight — but I really enjoy it and I’m going to miss it when football’s over.”

Not too long ago, Fajardo was navigating the streets of Regina on an electric scooter, before a local auto dealer put the wheels in motion for an enhanced form of transportation.

“My dad was, ‘Get off that thing!’ J.O. (O’Day) was like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get you off this scooter,’ as I became the starter,” Fajardo said.

“I loved it, though. It was actually really cool, because I looked forward to riding it into work every day. I looked forward to riding it after practice, because it was fun and I was able to zip around.

“I took some heat from some of the players, because you can’t be the starting quarterback while driving a scooter, but Capital Auto Mall did a great job of giving me a really nice truck so I’m kind of riding in style right now.”

Once a Rider, always a rider.

rvanstone@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robvanstone

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