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The pair were both Toronto Argonauts that year. It was Bethel-Thompson’s first season in the CFL and Fajardo’s second. Fajardo was used on short-yardage plays and after Bethel-Thompson came off of the injured list, he finished the season as the backup to Ricky Ray.
On Saturday, Ray’s two former understudies will headline the Touchdown Atlantic game from Wolfville, N.S.
“That whole year was kind of a magical journey,” Bethel-Thompson said earlier this week, looking back on that Grey Cup-winning Argos squad. “Our defence carried us the whole way. Ricky was magical when we he had to be magical. James Wilder Jr. kind of carried the load in the second half of the year.”
“It was very special,” Fajardo said after the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ first practice in Halifax.
“The crazy thing was (Bethel-Thompson) and Dakota Prukop got signed right before training camp. So we went in, I believe it was myself, Jeff Matthews, Drew Willie and Ricky Ray to start and then they signed Prukop and McLeod right before training camp. We had six guys in camp and all those guys could throw it. I remember it was a very competitive camp, I was just trying to make a name for myself.
“I loved it all the way through. That room was very unselfish. (The mentality) was, ‘Whatever we can do to help this team win a football game.’ I think that’s why we ended up winning.”
Bethel-Thompson outdueled and outlasted a handful of would-be No. 1 quarterbacks to finally be named the team’s starter during the 2021 season. Fajardo bounced from Toronto to BC and then Saskatchewan and established himself as the Roughriders’ No. 1 QB in 2019.
They see each other on the the field a couple of times a season and end up crossing paths in the off-season through mutual training connections in the Los Angeles area, Bethel-Thompson said. They’ve both enjoyed watching each other find homes in their CFL careers.
“He’s a good guy. He’s a good guy to be in a quarterback room with and now he’s found a home (in Saskatchewan),” Bethel-Thompson said of Fajardo. “They play to his strengths. They really game plan to do what he can do well, so it’s good to see him getting a shot and winning a lot of football games.”
Fajardo had a ton of respect for Bethel-Thompson’s dogged journey through the NFL and into Canada. Fajardo has been open about feeling frustrated in his career trajectory and that he looked at his arrival in Saskatchewan in 2019 as his last shot at making his football dream come true. Bethel-Thompson’s perseverance and dedication to his dream continues to impress his former teammate.
“I’ve got the utmost respect for him and his career,” Fajardo said.
“Looking at his career, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. It’s been living out of a suitcase I know for him. I’ve had a little bit of that, but for the most part, it’s nothing near what he’s had to go through. So like I said, I’ve got a lot of respect for that. You can see why he can perform so well. I think he takes that underdog mentality to heart and that chip on his shoulder of just everybody trying to count him out or writing him off and he’s proven a lot of doubters wrong.”
It’s difficult when you’re in that quarterback room and trying to find your place in it, let alone establishing your career to look at the bigger picture and see what’s around you. Going on five years after that Argos team made its Grey Cup run, it’s easy to look back and see the talent that was there.
“There was definitely a lot of talent on that team in general. A lot of different people with a lot of different talents,” Bethel-Thompson said.
“It was also my first CFL experience, so I was trying to kind of be wide eyed and bushy tailed, trying to find out what the heck was going on. It was a crazy year too, because we had like three different (practice) facilities and we ended up going on a Grey Cup run. I learned a lot about people and it was it was a good experience for me.”
“The one thing I will say is it (made) everybody better,” Fajardo added.
“The competition throughout not only just training camp, but throughout the season was just at an all-time high. It made you a better person, a better player on and off the field. All of that was stemming from that Ricky Ray tree. I think that’s what the common denominator is, is that all of us learned from him. I think that’s why you’ve seen us go and branch off and be successful, because of all the stuff that Ricky taught us, both me and McLeod.”