B.C. Lions' quarterback Buck Pierce announced his retirement Tuesday after an impressive nine-season CFL career that saw him throw for over 15,000 yards and win a Grey Cup, but it's a testament to his skill that his retirement leaves thoughts of how his career could have turned out even better. Pierce battled significant injuries throughout his time in the CFL, particularly concussions, and that meant he wasn't often able to stay on the field. That wasn't for a lack of effort, though, as he fought time after time to get back into the lineup, getting back up again every time he was knocked down. Pierce perhaps sometimes returning before he should have, and he resisted outside calls to hang up his cleats, but that also speaks to his determination. His career will be remembered for his overall success (15,289 yards, a 64.2 per cent completion mark, 76 touchdowns against 63 interceptions, a Grey Cup win with B.C. in 2006 and a Grey Cup appearance with Winnipeg in 2011), but it also will have many wondering how good it could have been if he'd hadn't run into persistent injury problems.
The high points of Pierce's career were remarkably good, and he got off to a great start in particular. Pierce signed with B.C. in 2005 following a solid college career at New Mexico State and began that season as the third-string quarterback behind Dave Dickenson and Casey Printers, but was quickly pressed into action after both of those guys were hurt. He only played a few games that year, but took over as Dickenson's primary backup in 2006 once Printers left for the NFL, and his work there proved to be essential thanks to Dickenson's own concussion problems; Pierce went 5-1 as a starter that year and led the league in completion percentage with a 73.7 per cent mark. Dickenson was starting again when the Lions won the Grey Cup that year, but Pierce's play in relief was crucial to getting them there. He proved a key piece for the Lions over the next several seasons, too, largely sharing the quarterbacking role with Jarious Jackson from 2007-2009, but injuries and the team's quarterback depth still held him back from becoming a regular starter. That seemed set to change when B.C. released him in the 2010 offseason and he headed to Winnipeg.
Pierce came in as the Bombers' starter, but the 2010 season wasn't a great one for him. He battled injuries again and only was able to start five games. However, he still played well enough that Winnipeg opted to trade backup Steven Jyles to Toronto in the offseason and go with Pierce as their starter again, and that paid off. Pierce was crucial to their 2011 success and their run to the Grey Cup, managing to stay relatively healthy and throwing for a career-best 3,348 yards with a 63.8 per cent completion mark. He did throw just 14 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, well below his typical ratio, but he played well enough to help the Bombers win plenty of games and make it all the way to the Grey Cup. That's a level of success they hadn't seen since 2007 and one they haven't seen again since, so while the 2012 and 2013 seasons didn't go as well for Pierce (with injuries again playing a major role), he should be fondly remembered in Winnipeg for at least that.
Pierce's career-closing stint with B.C. in 2013 (following a mid-season trade from the Bombers) also says a lot about him, and why coaches, teammates and fans were so fond of him. Not everyone would happily go from starter to backup, especially to a guy (Travis Lulay) who'd once been his own backup, but Pierce accepted that role with the Lions and fit into it perfectly, proving critical when Lulay went down and helping to mentor Thomas DeMarco. Over his career, Pierce proved able to adapt to a variety of different roles, and his desire to do anything to help his team win was always evident. That's why you see quotes like this from Lions' general manager Wally Buono:
Buck was a fearless competitor who never hesitated to put his body on the line for our organization,” said Wally Buono, Lions vice-president of football operations and general manager. “He was loved by both fans and teammates alike and on behalf of the Lions, we wish him the very best in the future.”
And from teammate Angus Reid:
— Angus Reid (@angusreid64) March 4, 2014
Injuries may have held Pierce back a bit, but he still left a notable mark on the CFL, and his time in it may not yet be done. TSN 1290's Darrin Bauming tweeted Tuesday that a couple of teams are interested in talking to Pierce about a coaching role, and he'd seem to be a logical candidate for a job like that. Pierce's passion for Canadian football was always evident throughout his career, as was his willingness to work with teammates and help them improve. Those traits could make him an exceptional coach, and they could mean that the book isn't quite closed on his CFL days.