HAMILTON -- His teammates love the man.
The fans love the man.
GM Joe Mack loves the man.
But Buck Pierce -- in particular his inability to stay healthy and finish games he starts -- is killing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Calls for the club to cut their oft-injured starting quarterback once and for all grew only louder and more credible Saturday in the wake of the latest Pierce debacle.
With his team's season on the line, Pierce didn't even get out of the first quarter before sustaining a shoulder injury that forced him off the field and into street clothes. The Bombers went on to lose 28-18 to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium and were eliminated from playoff contention.
It was the fourth time in Pierce's seven measly starts in 2012 he failed to finish a game he had started. Winnipeg lost all four.
It was the 24th time in 62 career CFL starts Pierce failed to finish a game he had started.
How long can this team continue to have Buck Pierce as its starting quarterback?
"We'll address all that in the off-season," said head coach Tim Burke. "That's not something I want to talk about now."
If Pierce cannot play Saturday at home to Montreal, it will be the 11th game this season he's missed with an injury. Add to that the four games he's left early because of injury and another one in which he was simply lifted during a losing effort and Pierce's body of work in 2012 amounts to two complete games -- against Toronto last week and Hamilton last month.
The fact Winnipeg won both those games speaks volumes about how much better the Bombers are with Pierce in the lineup. In three seasons, the Bombers are 12-5 in games Pierce started and did not leave prematurely with injury.
But the problem is Winnipeg is now 1-10 in games in which Pierce started and left with an injury. Saturday's events, playing out as they do against the backdrop of Pierce's injury-plagued career, begs the question of whether Winnipeg can move forward as a franchise with that kind of devastating uncertainty at the most important position on the field.
We'd love to tell you what Pierce thinks, but the Bombers refused to make him available to the media. So it was left to Pierce's teammates to speak to that delicate subject.
Pierce's favourite target Terrence Edwards says he thinks Pierce still has more upside than downside. "That's going to be up to upper management to make that decision -- it's not my call. But I think Buck gives us the best chance to win and we have to keep riding with him. As long as he's healthy enough to play, we have to keep going with him."
That's a big "if," of course. And then there's also the bigger picture of Pierce's long-term health. "He's a great quarterback but as we all know, he's had a lot of injuries," said safety Ian Logan. "And I'm just hoping for the best for his health as a person. Buck needs to take care of himself first before football."
Defensive back Jovon Johnson said that for all of Pierce's injuries, there's still no questioning his toughness. "He's a warrior and goes out every game and tries to get the job done. He's been the leader from the start.
"But it just sucks that every time he goes out there, he's got to worry whether he's going to finish the game or not."
The larger problem is that Pierce isn't the only one who has to worry about whether he'll finish the game. And that sucks for everyone.