We may only be three-quarters of the way through the opening weekend of the CFL season, but we've already seen one of the top hit we're likely to watch this year. From Friday's Winnipeg Blue Bombers - Hamilton Tiger-Cats' clash, which also featured a planking celebration and a quarterback controversy, here's Hamilton linebacker Jamall Johnson with an incredible shot on Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce. (Thanks to No Yards for the video.)
That was quite the frightening hit to watch live, as Johnson's hit (which seemed perfectly legal, as it looked shoulder-to-shoulder, and wasn't flagged) not only took Pierce (seen at top getting hit by Hamilton's Eddie Steele) down, but popped his helmet right off from the force of his impact on the turf. Given Pierce's long history of injuries, which made his durability a concern even before the season started, and particularly the problems he's had with concussions in the past, this seemed like potentially something that could knock him out for the rest of the game, for a few weeks, for the entire season or perhaps even for the rest of his career.
Fortunately for Winnipeg, Pierce was able to get up and continue playing, and he wound up leading the Bombers to a 24-16 victory. His stats weren't great (12 completions on 26 attempts for 151 yards with a touchdown and an interception), but he and the Bombers did enough to win, and in a city that only picked up four wins in last year's 18-game season, that's not all that bad.
Moreover, Pierce proved he can take some physical punishment, and that's not a bad thing considering his status as a recurring punchline for fragility around the league. In fact, as The Winnipeg Sun's Ken Wiebe writes, Pierce cited the Johnson hit as a good thing in his post-game remarks for just that reason.
"I've been taking hits for years and I've had some bad luck with some limbs and stuff like that, things I can't help," said Pierce. "I don't think my toughness has ever been in question. I've taken hits like that before. You bounce up and keep on going. That was a good hit and I'm sure it will be shown on CFL loops for years and years. Thanks Jamall Johnson for that."
As veteran Winnipeg defensive tackle Doug Brown pointed out, Pierce being able to play after that hit wasn't necessarily a sure thing.
Hopefully that's a sign that his body is catching up with the rest of his toughness," added Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown, who had five tackles and a sack. "I don't know many people who would be able to respond and play the rest of the game after a hellacious shot like that.
"I've seen harder hits, but blind-side, that can end a career, let alone end a season. He's never been a guy you've had to worry about being mentally tough enough. He's in the condition now where he can withstand a shot like that. It was incredible. I thought he was done."
Some questions should be asked about Pierce's return, though, particularly with reference to the CFL's much-ballyhooed concussion protocols. As the posters that have been put up around the league indicate, signs of a potential concussion can include everything from dizziness to "seeing stars" to ringing ears to confusion. Pierce obviously wasn't suffering from the more obvious symptoms such as vomiting, but after a hit like that, there should have been a sideline evaluation of the player (especially one who has a record of prior concussions like Pierce). Perhaps there was one that went on out of sight, but the TSN cameras only seemed to show Pierce standing alone on the sidelines. It's not that he necessary was or wasn't concussed, and there's no issue with him coming back if he wasn't; it just would have been nice to get some medical reassurance he was fine.
In any case, Pierce doesn't appear any worse for the wear, and that's a great thing for the Blue Bombers. Just about everyone in our season preview chat pegged them to finish at the bottom of the East Division, something I reiterated in my league-wide and team-specific previews. This is a small sample size of just one game, and they struggled on enough fronts that it would be foolish to throw out those predictions just yet, but Bombers' fans have to be happy for the moment. Instead of sitting in the East cellar, they're tied with Montreal for the division lead, and their quarterback's still healthy despite a substantial physical blow. For the moment, things are looking up in Winnipeg, and Buck Pierce is a key part of that turnaround.