Much of the sports world has been fascinated by the back-and-forth between Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees over if Rodriguez is healthy enough to return to the team's lineup, and a similar drama is playing out in the CFL. When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers face the Calgary Stampeders Friday (8 p.m. Eastern, TSN/ESPN3), they'll be starting backup quarterback Justin Goltz instead of Buck Pierce. Pierce says he's healthy enough to play, but Bombers' coach Tim Burke disagrees:
Regular Winnipeg starter Buck Pierce didn't seem too pleased with the decision Thursday — not that he didn't wish Goltz well, but he said he feels healthy enough to play.
"I'm a teammate first and that's what I'll be," he said.
"Am I happy about it? You know no I'm not, but I want to make sure that we go out there and we perform."
Pierce said he didn't know whether his job as a starter was in jeopardy after a 1-3 start to the season.
"It's up to them, it's out of my control," he said.
Head coach Tim Burke dismissed any suggestion the decision not to start him was related to anything other than his health.
"If he was healthy, he'd be starting, but he's not so he isn't," the coach said, suggesting that Pierce will insist he's healthy enough to play "as long as he's breathing."
"I'm sure he's not happy that he's not playing but you know it is what it is, he's hurt. To put him out there and risk further injury or more serious injury would be, I mean, it just wouldn't be very ethical on our part."
What's going on here? Well, both sides probably have a point. Pierce has proven to be a tough and determined player who's willing to play through a lot of pain (and keep playing even when others question if it's the right move for him), so it seems quite likely he could take the field. However, that history of playing through pain on his part also lends credence to Burke's comments: Pierce may say he's healthy, but that doesn't mean he's necessarily at 100 per cent. Moreover, considering Pierce's extensive injury history, there are good reasons for not playing him if he isn't completely healthy. If he's a little slower than normal, that could contribute to a big hit that puts him out for much longer than just a week.
There's another intriguing aspect of this, though, and that's the idea that perhaps Pierce really is healthy, but the Bombers are using injury as an excuse to get him off the field (as the Yankees have been accused of doing with A-Rod) to see what they have in Goltz. Pierce certainly hasn't been incredibly effective this year, completing just 60 per cent of his passes for 840 yards (sixth in the league) with two touchdowns and five interceptions, so replacing him isn't out of the question. Goltz doesn't have much CFL game experience, though: he's been with the Bombers since the fall of 2010, but had only 14 regular-season pass attempts heading into this year. He has looked promising in mop-up duty in 2013 though, completing 13 of 15 passes (86.3 per cent) for 170 yards. This could all be a stratagem to see how Goltz does when given a start: if he succeeds, the Bombers stick with him, but if not, they bring back the "healthy" Pierce next week. Regardless of whether Pierce's injuries are real or exaggerated, though, Goltz gets a chance to show what he can do Friday night. If he plays well, he may make this controversy even more interesting going forward.