April 12th, 2024

Alouettes have redemption on their minds


By Lethbridge Herald on November 15, 2023.

Graham Kelly 

INSIDE THE CFL

For the Montreal Alouettes, the word of the week is “redemption”.

Nobody could have a greater feeling of that than team General Manager Danny Maciocia. Born in Montreal he had to return to his home town to get the respect he deserved. After starting out coaching junior football, he was an Alouette assistant in 2001 and Edmonton’s offensive coordinator the following year. He replaced Tom Higgins on the sidelines in 2005 winning the Grey Cup his first try. He coached three more years while head of football operations. Under his watch the team struggled, their 34 year play-off run ending in 2006. He was fired in 2010 by Eric Tillman best remembered for trading QB Ricky Ray to Toronto where he won two Grey Cups. After leading the University of Montreal program he returned to the Alouettes as General Manager in 2020. He assumed the coaching job four games into the 2022 season before hiring his friend Jason Maas as head coach.

Because of his short, somewhat round stature, Maciocia was the butt of jokes in Edmonton, considered a loser who lucked into winning the 2005 Grey Cup. A good man without guile, the ridicule cut him to the quick. It made him empathetic for those who suffered the same fate. He made brilliant moves that turned the Als into a contender. Taking a chance on a coach who had been fired in Edmonton and Saskatchewan with future of the franchise in doubt, Maciocia believed in him. To shore up a struggling defence, he signed free agents Shawn Lemon and Darnell Sankey. Both played a vital role in demolishing the Argos. Taking a chance on a vet down the stretch is usually a good bet, same as Winnipeg did with Zach Collaros in 2019.

Lemon is a fascinating case. He has played for every team in the league except Hamilton. Last year he was All-Canadian with Calgary and the West’s nominee for Outstanding Defensive player. The Stamps didn’t re-sign him. B.C. did but cut him early in this year’s training camp. Other teams could have used him but only the Als stepped up and, then, not until September 23. I made several inquiries as to why he bounced around so much. I heard he was a wonderful teammate, a solid citizen on and off the field. He’s seldom hurt. Sunday will be his fourth Grey Cup appearance; he won rings in 2014(Calgary) and 2017(Toronto). Where will he play next year? Maybe Tabbie-town.

I first met Jason Maas when we signed copies of my book Grey Cup Glory: The Edmonton Eskimos’ 2003 Championship Season. He was the West’s All-Star quarterback in 2001 but was replaced later by Ricky Ray. The two remain best buds to this very day.

As Edmonton head coach he was often criticized for making bizarre decisions and railing away on the sidelines. In my experience his smile has been as big as his ears and he is well-thought of around the league. He has matured. He has won three Grey Cups, two in Edmonton, one in Toronto. A win Sunday might silence his critics.

When Trevor Harris opted to leave Montreal for Saskatchewan because of ownership uncertainty, it was only natural that Maciocia would reunite Rider free agent Cody Fajardo with Maas. Cody Fajardo was so popular in Saskatchewan that when he didn’t perform well, his play caller Maas was blamed and took the fall. The Riders gave the little-regarded backup Fajardo his first real opportunity and he responded by leading the Green to their first Western division title since 1976. Although they lost the Final to Winnipeg, he was the All-Canadian quarterback and division nominee for Most Outstanding Player which he lost to Ti-Cat Brandon Banks. (After last weekend’s debacle I bet a lot of Award selectors wished they could changen their vote.)

Fajardo made the post-season again in 2021 but faltered two years ago with his team losing their last seven games. After the fifth straight loss, he was benched and was publically very bitter about it. He said he wanted to come back; whether the Riders made him an offer, I don’t know. The full story hasn’t been told. At any rate, he was signed by Montreal and will start his first Grey Cup game Sunday. All’s well that ends well.

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