Football is a big test of character. The will to win is the fundamental difference between Grey Cup champions and seven other teams with slightly less appetite for success. A good example of this concept was the performance of B.C. Lions quarterback Buck Pierce against the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Friday night.
I believe that there were two basic reasons for Pierce’s success on Friday night. The first was his coach Wally Buono. Wally called out his quarterback earlier in the week when he suggested that Buck pick up his game or he could fully expect to be replaced at his job. Buono is now the winningest coach in CFL history and the man rose to No. 1 because he has a will to win ball games.
Wally is not there to give you a hug when he sees a sub-par performance. He is not your sorority sister with a shoulder to cry on when things go bad. Buono is a football coach who wants to win football games and he will replace anybody who cannot or will not contribute to his ultimate goal. Wally believes in Darwin’s evolutionary concept of survival of the fittest as it applies to football.
Buono may get fewer than average numbers of Christmas cards from former players, but this guy has been responsible for an incredible number of Grey Cup rings on his former players. That is the ultimate measure of achievement for great coaches — not popularity contests.
So the press conference in which Buono issued his ultimatum to his quarterback was no bluff. Pierce was faced with a basic choice to win or else in the Saskatchewan game and he answered the bell.
Pierce could have recited his lengthy list of ailments and used them to blubber about why he should expect sympathy from his coach and not a cold-blooded ultimatum from a mean man like Buono. After all, Pierce has absorbed enough punishment for 10 lifetimes in his brief football career. He has a dangerous history of multiple concussions as well as multiple joint and rib damage that will leave a lifetime of health problems for the man as his retirement legacy.
Pierce could have cried into a microphone about the bad man who questioned his abilities and showed little compassion for the physical price he has paid to play the quarterback position. Instead, he cowboyed up and played the game. Not only that, he won the game.
Pierce went out on a football field, took a horrific physical beating from the ’Rider defence, and won a football game. He had his own blood spattered generously all over his uniform and he had to pick himself off the turf too many times to count without a capable accountant, but he got up every time. It seemed like a real life version of Rocky Balboa in a football uniform at times during the game, but Buono was no Burgess Meredith in this game. You don’t quit on Wally even if you can barely answer the bell.
Both men demonstrated what it takes to win football games. It is a game played and coached by very tough men who don’t hide behind excuses.
Local freelance writer Jim Sutherland’s CFL column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in the Advocate. He can be reached at mystarcollectorcar.com