NOW that Buck Pierce is finally healthy enough to play, he's being told to take a seat.
Knowing what we know about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' No. 1 quarterback -- his competitive drive and his ability to play though pain -- being forced to sit out as a healthy scratch must hurt more than any of the countless injuries he's suffered between the lines.
"As a player, it's not up to you. You have to realize that," a frustrated Pierce said after a light workout at Canad Inns Stadium on Tuesday. "It's up to the doctors and the trainers. They've told me over and over that I'm their guy and I can see them wanting to make sure that I get a week of practise in before going out there."
That's the same message the team gave Monday, when it announced third-year QB Joey Elliott would make another start (his fifth in a row) against the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium on Friday night (8 p.m.).
It's easy to defend the decision. Pierce hasn't been in a game since Week 3, when he suffered a severe left-foot injury in the first quarter of the 42-10 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos on July 13.
Interim head coach Tim Burke, who along with offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton and GM Joe Mack made the decision to keep Pierce on the sidelines this week, reiterated the club's stance on the matter Tuesday. The team feels it would be unfair to Pierce if he started against the Stamps on one day of practise.
Burke indicated that no matter what Elliott does in Calgary -- even if he throws for 700 yards and six touchdowns -- Pierce starts next week against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Sept. 21).
"I think it's probably a given," he said. "I think Joey's done great a job, but we feel like Buck is our No. 1 guy, and we have all along. We need to get (Pierce) a full week of practise. It's just not fair on a short week to throw him in and put him to the wolves. He's a competitor and he believes he could do it."
Indeed, that's what Pierce said earlier in the day.
"I don't think it would have been unfair. I'm ready to play -- that's my job," said Pierce, adding he knows the offensive system cold. "I've been waiting to get the nod now for a while and just (waiting) to see what happens. I'm prepared. I'm ready."
This is an interesting time to be a quarterback for the Bombers. The numbers say Pierce gives Winnipeg the best chance to win, while the youngsters behind him -- Elliott, Alex Brink and even Justin Goltz -- seem ready to start taking some steps in their CFL careers.
Burke turned surly when asked if Pierce's status is under review the rest of the season, especially if the last-place Bombers (2-8) play their way further out of playoff hope. If Winnipeg is resigned to just playing out the string -- which is a definite possibility -- management will have to make a decision on the position, a suggestion the head coach had no time for.
"That's totally ludicrous," Burke said. "Those who think that... it's totally ludicrous. Buck's our guy."
Pierce wasn't sure what this recent development meant for his future in Winnipeg, and wasn't willing to read between the lines. He played it cool Tuesday, seemingly at ease about his standing on the Bombers depth chart.
"Down the road, who knows what's in store for any of us?" he said. "For me, I'm always an optimist. I look at the positives, and I know if I can go out there and I can control what I can control, things work out for you."
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