Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–6–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Unforgettable meeting set the stage

Brink gained confidence after late coach's prophetic words

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It was the Sunday of what would prove to be the final week of Richard Harris's life.

No one knew that then, of course. Indeed, all Winnipeg Blue Bombers backup quarterback Alex Brink knew, as his club prepared for a big contest against the B.C. Lions at home that Thursday night, was the big man had summoned Brink for a meeting in his office.

"Coach Harris said, 'Hey man, I want to talk to you,' " Brink recalled Tuesday. "So I walked in his office there and he sat me down and he said, 'I've been thinking a lot about you lately and your situation. And I just really felt like I wanted you to know that I think that at some point during this season, you're going to get an opportunity to really prove yourself. And I want you to know right now that I have your back -- one hundred per cent.'

The two men chatted for a few more minutes and then Brink thanked Harris and left his office.

It would be the last conversation the two men would ever have.

-- -- --

It's not particularly common in the carefully delineated world of pro football for defensive coaches to forge close bonds with offensive players.

But Harris, the Bombers defensive line coach, was no ordinary coach and the bond he'd forged with Brink was also extraordinary.

It was Harris, as Brink recalled it, who reached out to him the previous October after Brink was booed off the field after a disastrous outing against B.C. Playing in his first professional start, Brink went 4-of-18 for 61 yards and felt utterly alone as the catcalls and jeers rained down upon him at Canad Inns Stadium that day.

"That was tough -- probably the low point of my career," Brink recalled. "But coach Harris was there for me and he told me that he was the first one to stick up for me in the coaches meetings after that game, saying he wanted to keep me around and that he thought I could be a good player."

Brink did stick around for the rest of that hopeless 2010 season, but when he showed up for training camp in 2011, he'd fallen to third on the club's QB depth chart behind Buck Pierce and Joey Elliott.

It was a tough pill to swallow for Brink, but he understood why it happened and kept working and hoping for the chance at redemption that Harris would promise for him.

-- -- --

The first big step on that road came against Calgary in Week 3 of the season when Elliott -- playing in relief of an injured Pierce -- suffered a season-ending torn ACL.

Brink found himself the No. 2 QB once again when Harris called him into his office prior to that B.C. Lions game on July 28.

Two days after meeting with Brink, Harris collapsed in his office and died of a heart attack. He was 63. Brink was among the witnesses reduced to tears that day.

The entire Bombers organization -- including Brink -- was still reeling as the Bombers took the field two nights later against the Lions.

And then, exactly as Harris predicted, Brink got his chance. With Pierce sidelined with an injury, Brink entered the game in the fourth quarter against the very same Lions club that had humiliated him the year before.

"I remember walking out on the field that night, heading to the huddle, and thinking that, you know, this was exactly the moment that coach Harris was talking about," Brink said.

And then Brink backed up his late coach's faith. With the Bombers trailing 20-19 late in the game, Brink marched the club 75 yards in eight plays, capped by a 22-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Terrence Edwards.

-- -- --

The rest, as they say, is history.

Brink went on to play an instrumental role as the Bombers backup last season, seeing action in 17 of the club's 18 regular season games.

The club arranged a media availability with Brink Tuesday and an unusually large contingent of media was in attendance. It was a curious scene -- a dozen media members hanging on every word of a backup quarterback, two months before training camp begins. Not bad for a guy who was booed off the field 18 months earlier.

Brink said he never hesitated to re-sign with the Bombers. He spoke specifically of feeling a sense of gratitude for the loyalty they'd shown him.

The story he didn't tell -- not until after all the other media had left -- was this one: The one about a man predicting triumph for another, even as tragedy was about to befall him.

"In retrospect," says Brink, "you think about it and it really is almost eerie."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2012 C4

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