WINNIPEG — Michael Bishop has taken a lot of hits this season on and off the football field.
Critics have called the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Good Mike or Bad Mike as they condemn his inconsistent play and the offence’s struggles.
The heat will be even higher on Sunday, when Bishop tries to keep his team’s playoff hopes alive with a win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
No matter what happens, Bishop said he can weather the storm because the biggest blows he’s faced this year came before he joined the Bombers.
The eight-year CFL veteran was dealing with a family tragedy when he received an SOS from the team in July.
“When I got the call, I’d say I was kind of in a depressed state because little did Winnipeg know or anybody in the CFL know that I had a little nephew (nine years old) who’s been fighting for his life for the last three or four years,” Bishop revealed Wednesday after his team’s practice.
“He had a brain tumour. Two days before I got the call, he passed. I was going through all kind of emotions.”
When Winnipeg director of player personnel John Murphy asked Bishop to return to the CFL, he wasn’t sure if he was mentally ready.
“I kind of didn’t want to leave. I wanted to be there to support my sisters and nieces and nephews,” said Bishop, 33, who has two daughters, aged 10 and one year.
“But then I kind of thought that the best situation for me was, all my nephews had watched me play football at some point, so I thought the best thing I can do is not sit back and fall into that deep hole and come back and play. Not only for my nephew, but for my mom.”
Bishop’s mom died in 2006. He really felt the loss this off-season because he was at home in Texas hanging out daily with his family.
As he was getting ready to come to Winnipeg, Bishop was dealt two more blows within a 12-hour span.
First, his best friend and former Chicago Cubs pitcher Jessie Hollins drowned. While Bishop and his neighbours who knew Hollins were consoling each other outside, one of his neighbours called over to the home of another neighbour.
When the man didn’t answer, Bishop went into his yard and saw his door open. He went inside and found the man dead of a heart attack.
“That’s why I don’t get carried away about the negative things people write — because you have no idea,” Bishop said.
“To go through all of that and then to come here and play footballa ”
Bishop’s football career has always been marked by ups and downs.
The Kansas State star was second to running back Ricky Williams in the 1998 Heisman Trophy voting. He spent time with the NFL New England Patriots and the Arena Football League.
He joined the CFL with Toronto in 2002, having his best season in 2007 when he went 11-1 as a starter.
However, his days were numbered when the Argonauts acquired Grey Cup-winning pivot Kerry Joseph before the 2008 season.
Bishop was dealt to Saskatchewan in August 2008, and went 4-4 in eight starts. He was released after a playoff loss to B.C. in which he tossed three interceptions and the Riders committed to Darian Durant.
After joining the 1-3 Bombers and replacing Stefan LeFors, Bishop led the team to a 13-12 win over Toronto on Aug. 1 with less than a week of practice.
But Winnipeg soon floundered to a 3-8 record and there were cries for head coach Mike Kelly’s firing and calls for a new QB.
“For the most part, people that criticize you are the people that never played the sport,” said Bishop, who’s gone 6-6 at the helm.
“They never had to get behind the centre and see 12 people that’s coming at you every play. They’ve never been in a winning locker-room. They’ve never been around a great coaching staff. They’ve never felt defeat.
“And so when they talk about things like that, sometimes I laugh about it because they’ll never know.”
In analysing his own play, he looks at the bigger picture.
“Considering everything outside of football and then coming into a locker-room where you’re around a bunch of guys you’ve never played with, I think the end result is that we still control our own destiny,” Bishop said.
“So regardless of what happened good or bad, seven or eight weeks ago nobody in Canada felt that we’d be in the situation we are right now.”
If the 7-10 Bombers defeat the Tiger-Cats (8-9), they secure second place in the East Division by winning the season series between the two clubs.
A loss would knock Winnipeg out of the playoffs because of the crossover format. If the fourth-place team in the West has more points than the third-place club in the East, the Western squad would earn that third-place spot.
Edmonton and B.C. are tied for third in the West, each with 8-9 records. The teams play each other Friday in B.C.
Bombers receiver Terrence Edwards lives in the same building as Bishop and has got to know him well.
“I think this whole locker-room believes in Mike,” Edwards said.
“Mike came into a tough situation a I think he really trusts this locker-room and the locker-room trusts him now.”
As for criticism that Bishop is inconsistent, Edwards said it’s not always Bishop’s fault.
While it’s been a rocky road, Kelly said Bishop has handled the bumps well and he’s the one who’s put the team in a position to make it into the playoffs
“I’m a fan of Mike Bishop for what he’s done this year and will always remember him for it,” Kelly said.
Bishop has no regrets about joining the Bombers and his goal remains getting to the Grey Cup.
His nephew and mother are motivating him.
“To be there in the championship and get it done, my first thing to do when I get home is to go to where my mom and my nephew are buried next to each other and say, ‘Here it is.’
“That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Notes — Kelly, who was fined $2,000 by the league earlier in the week for his post-game behaviour with radio broadcasters, brought a prop to his daily meeting with the media Wednesday. It was a book called Handbook of Sports and Media.