Somewhere, Danny McManus let a small smile slide across his face and cracked a cold beer.
McManus is the man who told Bombers GM Kyle Walters that if he had his choice between Zach Collaros, Henry Burris or Drew Willy, he’d take the man they’ve now renamed Winnipeg after.
The man everyone considered to be the third choice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and that’s true if you consider the club did take free agent runs at Collaros and Burris prior to engineering a trade for Willy’s rights, is now 5-1 and clearly in the running for the CFL’s early season Most Outstanding Player.
Burris? Not so much at 1-3 with the Ottawa Red Blacks. Collaros? Not healthy and getting itchy watching his Hamilton Tiger-Cats fall to 1-4.
Willy might not act like the man. But he is. No swagger and no puffed up ego. Just results.
Someone, hell make that everyone, in Bomberland buy McManus a sud. He picked a quarterback. Maybe more important than anything else, it looks like he picked a winner.
And while McManus does most of his work in the shadows, you can be sure the men in the spotlight, Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea, are glad for his wisdom.
O’Shea was staring at a sleepless night and the headache of spending a week knowing his team had let a win slip out of its grasp, when Willy shuffled on stage and rescued the two points.
Part Joe Montana, part Johnny Unitas, part John Elway. Willy doesn’t let the enormity of the situation or challenge get in his head. He just goes to work and turns the pressure on others. Halfway through Thursday night’s game-winning drive, everyone in Canada knew what was going to happen. Including Kent Austin and his Tiger-Cats. They were getting Willy-ed. They knew it. He knew it. We knew it.
Certainly these are early days in the schedule and Winnipeg is still far from being a playoff qualifier, but O’Shea has no time for boundaries on his team. They’re 5-1 and in a fight for top spot not only in the West but in the league. Without Willy and his heroics, the picture is much different and not nearly as rosy.
O’Shea is a story in himself in this early CFL season and so is Walters. A pair of Canadian wonderkinds transforming a proud franchise that had fallen on hard times back into a contender.
But Willy is the key to it all right now.
This is a quarterback league, we hear again and again. Winnipeg hasn’t had a quarterback in a long time. Not one like Willy. Not one that fans can look at and expect success to follow him.
Willy is the present but he’s also the future. This is a player the franchise could build around for the next decade.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have a quarterback. Maybe a self-evident sentence considering this is pro football. But not if you live in Winnipeg and cheer for the Blue Bombers. That sentence just hasn’t been uttered with any conviction for a long time.
Go ahead, scream it to your brother-in-law in Regina. Or your cousin in Edmonton. They’re not the only ones with a leader anymore.
Winnipeg’s got a guy to call its own now. Somewhere, Dave Ritchie just woke up in his Lazy-Boy and grunted, "Hallelujah. Time to get us some of that good water."
Sure, Willy’s got a gun and he can take a wallop and he can get out of the pocket, but it’s the mental characteristics McManus liked best about Willy. And Danny Mac was right. It’s the poise Willy keeps quietly in his holster that makes him different. All the tools are great but at the end of the day it’s the ability to keep one’s grits from overcooking that makes an athlete a cut above the rest.
"Drew has the attitude and determination you look for at the quarterback position. He is physically and mentally tough, and can endure the challenges a quarterback faces, day in and day out... He is a quarterback with great promise in our league," said McManus, back on the February morning when Willy’s signing was announced.
Thursday night saw Willy go 31-for-43 and 361 yards with one TD and no interceptions. The Bombers offence continues to struggle running the ball and feature back Nic Grigsby had 56 yards and a 4.3 yard per rush average, but Willy wasn’t letting that get in his way.
He was hammered again and again. But he kept slinging and sharpening his dagger.
Then in the dying moments he whipped out his blade and cut the Tiger-Cats dead in their tracks. Willy stole a win and wrote another page in what is quickly becoming a chapter.
Can he write the whole book? Not sure.
But all of Winnipeg, sorry, Willypeg, can’t wait to read the next page.