Argos pay the price for previous hits on Pierce

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:55 AM ET

TORONTO - The Toronto Argonauts came gunning for Buck Pierce Saturday.

In the process they may have shot themselves in the foot — not to mention having their own quarterback fall victim to the collateral damage.

All week they talked about how putting hard knocks on Pierce was the key to beating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. And, then, the CFL took the tackling out of football.

Who knew? Not linebacker Ejiro Kuale. Not Ricky Foley. Probably not Argos’ quarterback Cleo Lemon, who’s dental work had bigger gaps in it than the Argos’ wound-scarred secondary by the time this was over.

And, certainly not Argonauts’ coach Jim Barker, who pretty much called out the league for being bigger pussy-cats than Roger Goodell and the NFL.

“There’s no question,” Barker said when asked if he thought the officials had dropped a protective cone over the injury-prone Pierce.

The quarterback had been severely battered last week by Calgary. In the aftermath there were suggestions something had to be done to protect talented, but injury-prone players. In other words, quarterbacks. In particular quarterbacks named Buck.

“I think it was just a case of last week ... we paid the price for it,” Barker said after seeing Kuale get thrown out in a decision that, he called, “game-changing.” It came with his club up 17-6, and it just went from worse to bitter after that.

There was also Kevin Eiben’s interception. It never happened according to the official record book because Foley was called for roughing Pierce on a drive that ended with a field goal.

Meantime, before all this happened Lemon had taken a helmet-to-helmet hit from Bombers’ linebacker Joe Lobendeau that knocked out a tooth, left him with nerve damage — and sidelined. But no penalty.

“Bizarre,” Barker said of the game. And, who could blame him. OK, maybe the league might.

But, hey, somebody has to say it and James Harrison wasn’t anywhere around.

Speaking of which, just because the NFL has gone soft to protect high-priced help such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, is no reason for the CFL to suddenly get gun-shy. Sure, nobody wants to see unneccesary concussions, but this is football. Last time we checked, that means people aren’t running around with cute little flags hanging between their taillights. Yet.

Kuale’s hit wasn’t any more vicious than the one Lemon took.

But Pierce has a history of injury. He’d been beat on.

Whether therStampeders had intent when it knocked Pierce out of last week’s game, only they know for certain. No official called it. Nothing was done from a league perspective, but the whole issue of protecting the quarterback did get raised. Again.

And, if Pierce wasn’t getting protected by a 19-man defence (not all of whom were wearing Bombers’ blue and gold), it certainly had that look when referee Glen Johnson and his crew tossed Kuale three minutes into the third quarter.

“Last week the guy (Pierce) took a lot of hits (against Calgary),” Barker said. “Kuale plays the game hard. It might’ve been a late hit but it wasn’t blatantly late. But the referee thought he had intent to injure the player. I’ve seen players get helmet-to-helmet hits and not get ejected; 25-yard penalties; late hits, that’s fine. Ejections are game-changers. Mr. Johnson thought he had intent to injure. How he knows that?”

Pierce had rolled to his right to make a pass when Kuale came shooting through. “The guy’s rolling out and the middle linebacker comes screaming off the edge,” said Barker, “Kuale tackles everybody that way.”

Of course, that’s what Harrison tried to tell the NFL, too. And, look where it got him, other than poorer.

“I guess they can measure intent. That’s what referees are going to do now?” said Barker, fighting to control his emotion. “What are you supposed to do? Stop playing hard? I don’t know the answer.”

The collision left Pierce flat on his back, but not so hurt that he missed so much as a snap. And, it left Barker incredulous.

“I’ve seen a lot of hits in this league and I’ve never heard of intent to injure when a middle linebacker closes on a quarterback and maybe hits him a step late,” Barker said.

“I’m not saying he was wrong in his call; I’m saying I’ve never seen it. It’s hard to swallow but it is what it is.”


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