A Season on the Brink: Taking Personal Ownership
This is not a piece regarding the community versus private ownership debate; nor is this a piece regarding what will the Board of Directors, who act on behalf of the greater community, do with the coaching personnel side of the football club in the off season. Rather, this is about the players who, for the most part, displayed a noticeable and personal ownership and accountability of their play Saturday afternoon in the matinee tilt in Toronto.
This, faithful readers, is significant as the reality check of this Monday mornings’ position in the standings comes into focus.
With two weeks left in the regular season, and assuming the home side wins both remaining games, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are on the cusp of only one of two options. Either, (a) Edmonton loses both games, and the Bombers are in the playoffs with a 7-11 record, or (b) Edmonton wins at least one game, and the Blue and Gold are watching the Grey Cup derby from the rail. The Bombers only partially control their destiny as a loss in either remaining game eliminates them from post-season contention. What they do control, however, is the way they play.
Throughout the season the Bombers have often looked disinterested, confused, and simply out of place. In truth, the vaunted air defence in the secondary looked partially that way in the second quarter on Saturday as well. That, however, was the exception in what may have been the Bombers most complete game of the season.
Leading up to the game, players towed the part line of “playing for pride”, and “playing for their job”. This is certainly true, but words are cheap. Show the fans, do not simply tell them. And they did.
There are three aspects of Saturday’s game that exemplify my position of ownership of their play, especially in the absence of key players like Edwards, Hall, and Watson. The first was obvious.
Buck Pierce, as it seems, is the piece that galvanizes the teams’ resolve to play hard and play well. He encourages personal ownership and dedication to not only themselves, but also to their teammates. Pierce, as the evidence suggests, makes the players around him better. This is not the place to discuss whether the Bombers should release him in the off-season; nor is this the place where I will comment on the merits and demerits of keeping any or some of the four quarterbacks currently on the roster.
Late in the third quarter, courtesy of a blind side blitz that saw a defender crush Pierce, literally, Pierce waived off the coaches and medical staff. At that moment, Pierce would have needed to be carted off the field to actually stop playing.
There is no question that he is a warrior, and a leader. Some have argued that perhaps he may be a few barbeque chips short of a full bag for playing having had his bell rung too many times. While I am concerned for his current and future health, I am not a medical doctor, and thus cannot make that call.
In short, waiving off the medical staff and playing was part of Pierce’s way of showing his pride in his job, his dedication to his teammates, and his devotion to the Blue and Gold. I was however happy to see him rest for a few plays to make sure no further damage was done. Thankfully, the sideline cameras documented an absence of shaky hands drinking the Gatorade, painful eye and facial wincing, and an awkward towel on head moment. Pierce wanted to play, which having watched the Bombers all season is in itself an ownership that reflects leadership.
Second, in the first half alone, all seven receivers caught a pass. While some may think this is insignificant, but it is actually the polar opposite of it. In making those completions, all Bomber receivers became involved in the game on physical, emotional, and cognitive levels. Each one was focused on running their routes and positioning themselves in the appropriate blocking scheme when off the ball. The offense owned the field this week in a way that has been gaining momentum over the past three or four weeks. There has been many times this season that Bomber fans struggled to identify players who were really playing from those that were simply going through the motions. This was a pleasant change for fans.
Third, although perhaps equally as obvious as the first, was the play of Chad Simpson and Will Ford. A few weeks back I described Bomber pairings that should give Bomber fans hope for a brighter future. The 5-30 combination, quite frankly, was dynamite this week. Well-designed plays, clever misdirection, good blocking, and very effective and visionary running made this duo electric and very hard to defend. They owned the field in a way Bomber fans have not yet seen this year.
With the fate of Bomber players, coaches, and supporters hanging in the balance (yes, there are some bandwagon jumpers here in River City), this season may be coming to an end sooner than anyone would like – but – there are pieces, leaders, and coaches that are radiating and demanding ownership of effective and engaging play. Bomber fans can only hope that this is new culture of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.