Renowned writer Rudyard Kipling was talking about what makes a man when he wrote these lines more than 100 years ago, but he might have been talking about what makes a good quarterback as well.
“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.“
On that count at least, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have a contender in Drew Willy, the former Saskatchewan Roughriders backup who will be leading their offence.
He hasn’t deviated from the patient, unemotional persona he projected when he first arrived in the city last winter to be instantly ordained the team’s starting quarterback, even though he had four CFL starts to his credit and a 1-3 record.
Of course, the Bombers have yet to officially begin the 2014 CFL season. So now is time for all fans, coaches and quarterbacks to look on the unlimited bright future that just might lie ahead.
To keep the literary theme going a little longer and inject just a touch of reality, Jeff Goldblum as scientist Ian Malcolm delivered this appropriate and memorable quip in the second Jurassic Park:
“Oohh, aahh, that’s how all of this starts, but then later there’s the running and screaming.”
Which pretty well describes the recent history of the Bombers.
There was a brief glimmer of hope in 2011, when a (relatively) healthy Buck Pierce led the team to the Grey Cup at B.C. Place, holding out the tantalizing dream a championship drought dating back to 1990 might just end. But alas, no.
In 2012, they finished at 6-12, in a numerical tie for the last in the league with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. And in 2013, they sank lower still, finishing at 3-15, tied for their worst ever in the 18-game CFL, set during the brief tenure of head coach Jeff Reinebold, although he’d already been chopped before the curtain came down in 1998.
Current head coach Mike O’Shea is the Bombers’ third in three seasons and their general manager and team president were also fired in 2013. They’ve burned through half a dozen quarterbacks trying to find someone who could turn things around.
Over to you, Drew.
Willy has had a good camp and despite two preseason losses (in which he played a significant role only in the second) has looked pretty good. Certainly good enough for O’Shea to say he remains confident in his starter.
“I thought the offence performed very well,” he said after their final 23-20 preseason loss to the Calgary Stampeders, although he noted a slow start and failure to cash in on some scoring chances.
“I thought they played with a lot of heart. They played with a real physical style. We ran the ball, we threw the ball, we moved the ball down the field.”
Willy is sounding just as confident as their first regular-season game against Toronto approaches Thursday.
“I think that we’re versatile. We can run the ball, we can throw the ball, whatever the defence gives us, that’s what we’re going to do,” he says.
“I feel good with the guys that we’ve got out there.”
He hasn’t been a team’s designated starting quarterback since college, which, despite his 27 years, you’d swear was yesterday for the youthful looking veteran.
But it wasn’t. He’s kicked around for six seasons in the NFL, UFL and CFL since his time at the University of Buffalo, where he set school quarterbacking records.
His NFL experience was largely holding a clipboard but he counts such greats as Peyton Manning among those he’s learned from during his apprenticeship, which finished with two seasons in Regina behind Darian Durant.
This week, true to form, he didn’t admit to any pregame jitters as he prepared for his opening night debut. That just isn’t his style.
At the same time, he acknowledged this is his big chance to prove himself.
“Definitely. It’s definitely a great opportunity for myself,” he said. “I feel comfortable with the players that we have and the coaches so I’m looking forward to Thursday night.”
He also made it clear though that he isn’t making this personal, saying he has no specific goals for his own performance this season.
“Just get the wins. I think that’s what we need to do here. As long as we get wins, the stats usually take care of themselves.”
Fans and coaches heartily agree. And not just soon, right now, please.
“It’s important from my perspective that we start winning right away and I’ve let the guys know that,” says O’Shea. “This is not rebuilding, retooling, this is not anything like that. We need to win. That’s very important.”