TORONTO -- The statistics make the case quite clearly -- a healthy Buck Pierce at starting quarterback gives the Winnipeg Blue Bombers their best chance to win.
But Toronto Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich and several of his players said here on Thursday that there’s also something about Pierce that is not so easily quantifiable -- an intangible quality that makes the Bombers a dangerous opponent whenever Pierce is in the lineup, including here at Rogers Centre this Friday evening.
"There’s no question -- Buck is a magnetic guy. He always has been, for as long as I remember him being in the league," Milanovich told reporters here Thursday afternoon during his regular coach’s pre-game news conference. "He’s just got great leadership skills. He finds a way to make a play when it doesn’t look like he can make a play...
"He’s a winner and he finds ways to get it done. And I fully expect them to have that same shot in the arm that we’re feeling too."
Friday’s matchup between the Bombers (4-11) and the Argos (7-8) coincidentally marks the return of both Pierce and Argos starting QB Ricky Ray to the lineup.
Pierce missed the last two games with the lingering symptoms of a concussion sustained the last time these two teams played, Sept. 29 at Canad Inns Stadium, while the Argos announced on Thursday that Ray will also be making his return to the lineup on Friday after missing the last three games with a knee injury.
Argos safety Jordan Younger said following a light practice Thursday morning at the Argos Mississauga practice facility that Pierce’s fearless style of play -- which has so often resulted in injury -- also seems to be a rallying point for the teammates around him.
"Buck’s toughness and his willingness to take a hit to make a play -- even if it’s just a five-yard play, he’ll stand in there and take it," said Younger. "I think the guys behind him see that and they try to rally behind him and try to mirror that kind of toughness."
Younger has been publicly critical in the past of Pierce, saying that the Bombers QB takes too many unnecessary hits.
The return of Pierce is one of two roster moves the Bombers made this week involving players named Pierce. The other move sees receiver Doug Pierce also added to the 46-man roster this week.
Bombers head coach Tim Burke said at a downtown hotel here Thursday afternoon shortly after his team’s arrival that Doug Pierce will also start Friday evening at wide receiver. Burke said the one receiver position still to be determined is at the import slotback position, where he said Terrence Edwards remains a game-time decision. Isaac Anderson will be inserted into the lineup if Edwards cannot go.
The Argos also announced Thursday that running back Chad Kackert, who’s been injured, will play Friday evening. Milanovich added that defensive tackle Adriano Belli, who came out of retirement just this week, will play Friday evening but will be restricted to about "20 snaps."
Buck Pierce was asked by reporters here Thursday afternoon if he still harbours any ill will towards Argos linebacker Brandon Isaac, who gave Pierce the concussion when he illegally hit him in the chin with his helmet.
Pierce told reporters in Winnipeg shortly after the hit that he felt it was a "dirty play," but Pierce seemed to soften his criticism here on Thursday, describing football as a violent game in which things happen very quickly.
Asked specifically if he was backing away from his earlier criticism of Isaac, Pierce said he wasn’t. "I’m not saying that it wasn’t a dirty hit. It was an illegal hit and it wasn’t within the confines of the game... I’m not saying he’s a dirty player or anything like that. But that specific play was an illegal play.
"But like I say, it’s one of those things that happen throughout the course of the league."