Darian Durant received texts this week from Grey Cup winning quarterbacks Damon Allen and Tracy Ham, both offering the Saskatchewan Roughriders pivot the same advice.
Durant has been part of three Roughriders teams to compete in the Grey Cup, yet the only victorious effort was the one in which he was a third-stringer who never saw the field. Losing in the 2009 and ’10 games – by a combined four painful points – was ‘devastating’.
He recognizes now that he was young and relied on his improvisational skills more than his brains in those games. So the simple advice from those champions rang like true wisdom to a now more mature Durant this week as he takes another shot at the Cup.
“They’re fans of the game and saw the ’09 and ’10 Grey Cups and saw that I was overwhelmed a little by the moment,” said Durant. “They said ‘take it a play at the time and don’t think about what you’ll do after the game’… I don’t remember much from those games. It was moving so fast. I’m a different quarterback now.”
In 2009, as a first-year starter in the Grey Cup, Durant completed 17 of 29 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another.
But he threw two picks in that 28-27 loss to the Montreal Alouettes, remembered more for the infamous 13th man penalty that enabled the Als’ winning field goal.
In 2010, Durant had led the CFL in passing during the regular season, but in the Grey Cup rematch, the Als limited him to 215 yards passing and one touchdown in the 21-18 loss.
“In moments like those, you wish it was a blowout, you wish you didn’t have to go through such a heartbreaking time,” said 29-year-old Durant. “Being a little older now, I’m grateful for the opportunities and I understand that they’re few and far between.”
Durant is no stranger to what could be. He was on the sidelines in 2007 when Kerry Joseph led the Riders to the title. He saw thousands of Rider-crazed fans greet the team at the airport, and was part of the electric parade of green and white down Regina’s Albert Street. He loved every minute, and it taught the South Carolina native a thing or two about the passion of Rider Nation.
“Darian has been there a few times, and the only one he won is the one he didn’t play in, and that really bothers him,” said second-year Riders running back Kory Sheets, who regards Durant as a “big brother.”
“So we want to win this one for Darian, that’s something we talk about all the time among the guys on offence. Let’s get a ring for Darian.”
Durant started 2013 like gangbusters, making it to Week 10 without throwing a single interception. He finished the regular season with 4,154 passing yards, good for third in the CFL. He came on strong in Saskatchewan’s two playoff victories, helping to secure a spot in Regina’s hometown Grey Cup and hoping to set off the biggest party the town has ever seen.
The 5-11, 214-pound quarterback in his eighth season with the Riders carried a video camera on Thursday to record his teammates, vowing this time to do things he didn’t do enough in past Grey Cup weeks – soak it in.
“There are only three Grey Cups in our organization’s entire existence,” said Durant. “So to be the fourth, right here in Regina in front of Rider Nation, is the best opportunity you could ever ask for.”