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The Buck does NOT stop here

Epic hit -- and Pierce's quick recovery -- gives Bombers a quick jolt of confidence

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/7/2011 (2177 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

This is a story about two hearts and one hit -- a hit so epic and so potentially defining for a beaten-up football franchise and its beaten-up quarterback that years from now we might refer to it in the upper case.

But for now, just one game into the long reclamation project that is the 2011 Winnipeg Blue Bombers season and with the next chapter scheduled to play out tonight in the home-opener against the Toronto Argonauts, 'The Hit' is still just 'the hit': a thunderous piece of vengeance rained down upon Winnipeg Blue Bombers starting quarterback Buck Pierce during the third quarter of last Friday's 24-16 Bombers victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Pierce and the men who may yet replace him, backups Alex Brink and Joey Elliott, chat at practice Thursday.

Pierce and the men who may yet replace him, backups Alex Brink and Joey Elliott, chat at practice Thursday.

Hamilton's Jamall Johnson unleashed a heart-stopping hit (left) on Buck Pierce, a hit that would redefine many opinions of his durability.

Hamilton's Jamall Johnson unleashed a heart-stopping hit (left) on Buck Pierce, a hit that would redefine many opinions of his durability.

Hamilton linebacker Jamall Johnson slammed Pierce to the ground with such force that it actually popped the quarterback's chin strap and sent his helmet rolling down the field at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

All of which gets us to the part about the two hearts: the one that stopped at the moment of that hellaciousness and the other one, the one that was revealed for all to see as perhaps bigger than any of us imagined.

Let's start with the one that stopped. "I thought my wife was going to be a widow for a second there," reflected Bombers general manager Joe Mack on Thursday. "Watching Buck get hit like that, I thought for a moment I might have a heart attack."

But Mack survived and so too did his pivot, who showed in the moments after that hit he had a heart many times larger than his injury-riddled past might suggest.

Indeed, you could make a macabre case that the best thing that could have happened to the Bombers in Week 1 was precisely the smackdown Johnson laid on Pierce and the message the quarterback sent in the moments afterward, rising from the turf and helping to pilot Winnipeg to a 15-0 run in the second half that earned the Bombers the comeback and first road win in two years.

Of course, that's easy for me to say -- I didn't have to scrape myself up off the field. So I asked Pierce on Thursday what he thought about that bold proposition.

"I think that in a way it was a good thing for me to take a hit like that and to have everyone else see that I could handle it and that I was OK."

Pierce laughed. "Now, personally, I already knew I was tough and could take a punishment. So did I need to take that kind of hit? No. But if it meant everyone else got to see that too? Well then OK, it wasn't such a bad thing after all."

In the moments following the Bombers' victory, Pierce thanked Johnson -- tongue firmly in cheek -- for making him the star of a CFL highlight that will be played over and over again for years to come.

But maybe the favour Johnson did Pierce and the Bombers was more tangible than that -- bestowing upon them the gift of putting to rest in the very first week any lingering doubt about whether the man the Bombers have annointed their starter has the necessary durability to last a season.

Pierce could still get injured, of course. Could happen tonight, in fact. Remember, the dislocated elbow that ended his season last year was not the result of a hard hit but rather an awkward fall.

But what is no longer, ever, in question is this man's ability to absorb a hit. "We can't have everyone holding their breath everytime he takes a hit," Bombers defensive lineman Doug Brown ventured Thursday, "and he just dispelled that concern right there on that one hit."

Which brings us full circle to Mack, who was watching on TV at his home in Winnipeg last Friday when his heart stopped at the sight of the man whom he had built a football team around lying helmet-less on the turf. "We dodged a bullet there," says Mack, "because that was a ferocious hit.

"I really do believe that if he stays healthy, he's got a chance to do some really special things for this team and this city."

In Week 1, the magic was simply that Pierce survived. Starting tonight, the question turns to whether this man for whom Bombers fans have waited so patiently can finally begin to thrive.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

bomber game day C2-3

Read more by Paul Wiecek.

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