The players were beaming Monday morning as they stepped off the plane in Mirabel, Que., where reporters were waiting for them. Mustafa Johnson, shirtless, raised the trophy above his head as he descended the plane’s stairs.
“We believed all year,” quarterback Cody Fajardo said. “And like I said, I think the most important thing about this team was that when things didn’t go our way and we had a little bit of adversity, no one started pointing fingers.
“Everyone believed and knew that this year was special.”
With less than 15 seconds left in the game, it was Fajardo’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Tyson Philpot that led the Alouettes to an upset and their first CFL title since 2010.
Fajardo was named MVP after throwing for 290 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 21 of 26 completions in the game. It’s quite a comeback for the 31-year-old who was benched and then allowed to leave as an unwanted free agent by the Saskatchewan Roughriders a year ago.
“And having that Cup on the plane home makes all the blood, sweat and tears worth it,” Fajardo said.
It wasn’t just Fajardo who made a triumphant return to the CFL. Montreal came into Sunday’s game as eight-point underdogs, while Winnipeg was in the final for the fourth straight year.
The Alouettes’ surprising victory comes after a tumultuous few years, and the franchise didn’t even have an owner at the start of 2023. The league took over the reins twice in a nearly four-year span as ownership became an ongoing issue.
The Montreal Alouettes left Montreal as losers and return with the Gray Cup
In March, the team was sold to Quebec media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau. Speaking to reporters, he said he wanted to bring stability and a long-term vision to the beleaguered club. The Alouettes also lost quarterback Trevor Harris and receiver Eugene Lewis in free agency.
General manager Danny Maciocia did not seem deterred even if little was expected of the Als this season. He brought in new faces, including Fajardo and head coach Jason Maas after the Roughriders left both.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Maciocia said he wanted to form a team with guys who have “a little bit of resentment” and embark on a project that “clearly wasn’t made for everyone.”
This team is strong and united, he added, calling the victory “very gratifying,” even if it doesn’t feel real yet.
“It’s surreal,” Maciocia said. “It’s going to sink in at some point.”
Maas, for his part, said he was grateful to be in Montreal and hopes the fans are as proud as the Alouettes are right now.
“They appreciate hard work and I think that’s what we did,” Maas said. “We worked hard and achieved our goal from the beginning.”
The city is also taking it all in. The Alouettes flag is on display at Montreal City Hall and a parade is planned for Wednesday.
— with files from Dan Spector of Global and The Canadian Press
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