Zach Collaros and Matt Nichols will be forever linked as teammates on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup championship side.
And while the pair are no longer sharing the same quarterback room – what with the Bombers having hitched their wagon to Collaros and Nichols having moved on to the Toronto Argonauts – they do have share some fond memories from this time a year ago.
That was shared during a Grey Cup Unite media Zoom call Thursday featuring the two, along with Edmonton pivot Trevor Harris.
“Matt was huge for me coming in so late and helping with the offence. Accepting me into the locker room, accepting me into the quarterback room,” said Collaros, when asked to speak of the influence of Nichols after his arrival last October at the trade deadline.
“He was integral for us down the stretch in the meeting rooms, on the field and just his leadership. You could tell guys still looked to him even though he couldn’t be out there on the field during the stretch run.”
Collaros hammered home that sentiment when he recalled a specific moment in the Bombers’ run to glory last November – a snapshot after the team’s West Final win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina.
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“One of my favourite memories of the entire run was after we won that game in Saskatchewan, coming back into the locker room and the emotion that everybody had – specifically Matt and the quarterback group – and chugging Bud Lights with him in the locker room.
“That was one of the most vivid memories for me, honestly… just the emotion that Matt had and everybody had. From a quarterback perspective, we all know how much time you put into it and to have a bad-luck injury like that and take that away and keep you off the field is terrible. We’ve all been a part of it.
“Matt was integral for me, integral for the team,” he added. “That memory really sticks out… I never told Matt that, but Matt knows that was an awesome moment.”
Nichols, who immediately concurred on the Zoom call, played an integral role in the franchise’s turnaround after his arrival in a trade just before Labour Day in 2015.
After being anointed the No. 1 QB over Drew Willy following a 1-4 start in 2016, Nichols helped guide the Bombers to a 38-17 record. The club was 8-2 last year under his guidance and he had completed 71 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns and just five interceptions before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in late August.
The Bombers would tread water under Chris Streveler over the next few months before Collaros stepped in to win all four of his starts – including the three-game run in the playoffs.
During the call Nichols was asked if he still felt like he was part of the championship run after the injury.
“I’ve been in the league 11 years and that was my first experience getting to just go a Grey Cup and experience that,” he said. “So I soaked it all in, celebrated it and had a great time. Who’s to say how much me being around the back half of the season helped out, I don’t know. I know I played half the games that year and won some football games to help us get to that point, so I do feel like I was definitely a part of it.
“Obviously not playing in the back half of the season out there changed my role. I fully accepted that and had great time celebrating and going on that ride with all the guys that I played a lot of football games with. So, I was super excited to see all my teammates get that experience of going out there to win that championship. I celebrated probably as hard as anyone.”
After the season – and with Nichols still recovering from the shoulder injury – Bombers management opted to sign Collaros as a free agent. Nichols then signed with the Argos.
The organization agonized over the decision, knowing how much of a role Nichols played in the turnaround – a subject he weighed in on when asked on Thursday.
“I’ll probably think about that stuff when I’m done playing,” Nichols said. “The things that instantly come to mind are always trying to leave a place better than you found it and I feel like that’s definitely the case.
“I feel like all the work I did in the community, things that my family were able to do around the holidays with holiday hampers and donating to the Children’s Hospital and just in general with my family being there we helped to make the place better than it was. That’s all you can really hope for.
“It was a great chapter in my career and in my family’s life and it’s time to move on to the next one.”
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