In the offseason between 1997 and 1998, a little-known backup quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was released in favour of then-superstar Matt Dunigan and thought-to-be star Steve Taylor.
That little-known quarterback, of course, went on to become all-time great Anthony Calvillo. The five-time all-star and three-time Grey Cup champion burned the Tiger-Cats every chance he got, seemingly turning things up a level each time he touched the ball against Hamilton.
As it goes, history has a way of repeating itself.
On Tuesday, the Tiger-Cats traded gunslinger Zach Collaros to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for a 10th overall pick in the 2018 CFL draft. Fans are left wondering if their beloved Tiger-Cats let another potential great quarterback slide between their fingers.
It’s no question that Collaros had an up and down time during his career in Hamilton. In 2014, his first year as a starter, Collaros led the team to an East Division championship before falling short in a Grey Cup game that could have gone either way.
But it’s 2015 that he’ll be remembered for in Hamilton. The Tiger-Cats started the season 8-3, dismantling most of their opponents by a wide margin. Collaros had emerged as the team’s leader and arguably the best player in the entire CFL. He was throwing with a confidence rarely seem amongst Hamilton quarterbacks and his ability to create plays outside of the pocket made him both a threat to run and find open wide receivers late into plays. He was not only fantastic, but an absolute joy to watch. The Tiger-Cats were the clear Grey Cup favourites heading into the back half of the season.
Then, there was the hit. If you’ve followed the team, you know what I’m talking about. On September 19, 2015, Collaros took a low hit against the Edmonton Eskimos. He tore his ACL, missing the remainder of the season and, according to many, has never been the same.
Both the 2016 and 2017 seasons have been disastrous for Collaros. Returning midway through the 2016 season, Collaros went 4-7 before a close East semi-final loss to the crossover Edmonton Eskimos.
And 2017, well that’s a year we’d rather forget. Collaros led the Tiger-Cats to an 0-8 start, putting up a career low quarterback rating and completion percentage, as well as a gruesome touchdown-to-interception ratio. Some blamed an offensive line that struggled to give Collaros time, while others cited coach Kent Austin’s seeming lack of control over his team.
Many, including myself, believe that Collaros was as much to blame as any other factor. Collaros collapsed at any sign of pressure and struggled to find even the most open receivers. He was no longer the man we fell in love with.
We’ll never know what Collaros could have done under the guidance of June Jones, new head coach for the Tiger-Cats. Jones’ run-and-shoot offense, which helped quarterback Jeremiah Masoli flourish throughout the second half of the 2017 season, may have done wonders for Collaros as well.
However, by the time Jones was installed as head coach in Hamilton, the relationship between Collaros and the Tiger-Cats felt completely toxic. Even when Masoli struggled, the team showed little interest in giving Collaros another opportunity. The Tiger-Cats were done with him, and while Collaros showed an incredible composure with the media, it seemed that he was also likely done with the Tiger-Cats.
In reflecting on Collaros’ legacy in Hamilton, it’s not hard to appreciate the professionalism he brought to the team. Even during hard times, Collaros kept a ‘nose to the grindstone’ mentality that his teammates fed off. He clearly worked hard and led by example.
It’s easy to recall his struggles, but Collaros’ time in Hamilton should be remembered for his 2014 run to the Grey Cup and an 11-game stretch in 2015 where he was likely the best player in the league and the most dynamic offensive force the Tiger-Cats had seen in years.
The reason Calvillo’s success was so traumatic for the Tiger-Cats is because the Alouettes are a divisional rival, a team they play regularly and often meet in the playoffs. His success usually came at Hamilton’s expense.
As a Roughrider, Collaros will only play against Hamilton twice a year. For that reason, it feels appropriate that we support Collaros. Much like how the Tiger-Cats supported running-back C.J. Gable when the team dealt him to Edmonton, the likeable Collaros should be someone fans remember fondly and cheer when possible.
That is, of course, until we play each other in a Grey Cup. At that point, feel free to boo Collaros and the Roughriders mercilessly.
Shawn W. Smith is a writer and reporter from the Hamilton area. His work has appeared on Sportsnet.ca, SB Nation and Vice Sports. He is desperate to see the Tigercats win one more Grey Cup before he dies, but is losing hope.
***** Feature photo Courtesy of Hamilton Tiger-Cats