Noel Prefontaine, the Toronto Argonauts punter and oldest player at 39, was standing in the locker room after his team won its CFL-best 16th Grey Cup, inch-deep in a pool of post-celebratory beer, champagne, sweat and who knows what else.
He cracked a cold Coor’s Light and sought out the third-oldest player on the team, 36-year-old backup quarterback Jarious Jackson, presenting him with the suds. "I gotta have a beer with this man right here," Prefontaine said. "This guy’s a back-to-back champion."
"Not just back-to-back, man. I’m a damn trivia question," Jackson was quick to point out, taking a healthy swig from the silver bullet. "Back-to-back, home-and-home, three-and-oh. Who else has done that?"
Well, the CFL statisticians have yet to get to the bottom of it league-wide, but it can be said that within that smelly, cramped, jubilant Argonauts locker room, Jackson was the only guy who had been to the Grey Cup three times with a perfect record and also won the championship twice in front of a home crowd. For a guy who has only been in the league for eight seasons, it’s quite an accomplishment.
"It honestly hasn’t sunk in yet," Jackson said, grinning through his thick playoff beard. "I don’t really understand the magnitude of it yet. Maybe a little later I will. But my mind’s just all over the place right now, you know?"
For a backup quarterback who watched the majority of the game from the sidelines, Jackson had a monumental effect on the 100th playing of the Grey Cup. With just over a minute left in the second quarter and his team holding an 11-point lead, Argonauts starting quarterback Ricky Ray drove the team down to Calgary’s one-yard line.
The Argos tried to bulldoze the ball into the end zone in the arms of Chad Kackert, but after that failed, head coach Scott Milanovich looked down his bench and called Jackson’s number. He grabbed Jackson by the 12 on his jersey and gave him the play: I right, X pill, A 45 lead, X rodney slot, Z crush. It was the first time he had called it all year.
"We worked on that damn play all year and coach didn’t call it once," Jackson said after the game, shaking his head in bemusement. "All year long we got down to the goal line and I’d think ‘hey maybe we’ll run that play’ but we always went with either a quarterback sneak or gave it to Kack to pound it in."
This time was different.
Jackson took over for Ray under centre and tapped his left foot on the ground to set receiver Dontrelle Inman in motion. He called for the snap and the entire Argonauts offensive line plowed forward as if they were trying to open a passage for Kackert who was barreling ahead with his hands out for the ball.
But as Jackson went to hand the ball off to his running back he hung onto it; the Stampeders were so fooled by the play action that two defenders tried to tackle Kackert, who never even touched the football. Jackson bootlegged out and found Inman who had continued running to his right after he was set in motion and was wide open just in front of the end zone. He walked in without even so much as a finger touching him.
"Man, I was waiting for that play all year too," Inman said after the game. "Every game I’m like ‘alright coach, are you gonna call it? Are you gonna call it?’ But I guess he was just waiting for the Grey Cup."
To Milanovich’s credit, it was a perfect time for the call as Calgary never saw it coming and it put the Argonauts up 23-6 before the extra point. Calgary finished the game with 22 points.
"It was just great execution by Jarius, that was such a great moment for him," Ray, who watched it all unfold from the sidelines, said. "He’s been huge for us all year."
Jackson has been a consummate leader in the Argonauts dressing room, fitting seamlessly into his role as the veteran backup quarterback from the first day of training camp. On that day, Milanovich had the Argonauts go around the room introducing themselves and telling their teammates what their role is. "My name is Jarius Jackson," the Mississippi native said. "And I’m here to back up Ricky Ray."
Standing on the turf at Rogers Centre a full six months later, Argonauts general manager Jim Barker remembers the moment well. He knew right then and there that he had made the right choice to bring Jackson over from B.C., where Jackson played for seven years and won two Grey Cups, during the offseason.
"That was when it all came together for me. I knew everyone was going to understand their role. And when everybody carries that through, you end up winning 35-22 in the 100th Grey Cup in your home city," Barker said, pointing up at the score on the Jumbotron above him. "That moment was just so great."
But Jackson was asked to do more than just provide leadership and wisdom this year. He entered a September 23 game against the Montreal Alouettes in the first quarter when Ray went down with a knee injury, leading the team the rest of the way in what ended up as a 31-10 loss.
Jackson started the Argos next three games in the thick of the playoff push, throwing a touchdown in each game and, more importantly, providing a steely, experienced hand to lead the offence without its best player.
"He stepped in when I went down and carried this team; He kept us going," Ray said after the Grey Cup victory. "So to see him get that touchdown today, that was just so awesome. He’s been waiting all year to run that play."
An hour after the game, Ray and Jackson were standing at their lockers — they sit side-by-side at the front of the room, near the coaches — examining the trophy they just won. Ray had it extended out in front of him and was reading down the list of names that have been engraved in the steel over 100 years, until he got to the last team to win it, the BC Lions last season.
"See, there it is right there, man," Jackson said, proudly. "J. Jackson. I’m on there, baby." Ray looked at his teammate and laughed. "That’s so awesome, man," he said. "I can’t wait to join you."