WINNIPEG - There was Alex Brink, his back to the wall normally reserved for the head coach’s daily media scrum, a barrage of cameras and microphones thrust in his face.
“Another day in the life of the backup quarterback, I guess,” the 26-year-old began, a grin on his face and nothing resembling a deer-in-the-headlights look in his eyes.
Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans can only hope that’s a sign of the guy’s progression as a quarterback, too.
Friday night against Montreal, Brink will call the shots in one of the most important games we’ve seen around here in a while. When’s the last time the Bombers had one hand on first place this late in the season?
It’s just the second start of the man’s pro career, and you’d have been well instructed to forget the first.
The stats say he completed four of 18 passes against the visiting B.C. Lions, last October, before being yanked in favour of Steven Jyles.
What I remember most is how he looked completely overwhelmed, fed to the Lions, you might say, chucking and ducking like somebody punching way above his weight class.
Coupled with the derision raining down from the Bomber faithful that day, it was the kind of humiliation that can run a guy right out of the game.
Brink looks back on it and says it wasn’t even the worst game of his life.
“I’ve been through times like that before,” he said, recalling his second-last game at Washington State, when he threw six interceptions against Oregon State. “I mean, it was brutal. Probably the worst game I’ve ever played.
“I came back the next week, our rivalry game, at Washington, threw five touchdowns, 400 yards and won the game with a last-minute touchdown pass. I know how to respond to that.”
Only problem is, instead of waiting one week, like he did in college, Brink has waited 11 months for a chance to redeem himself, getting yet another dose of humiliation in the process when he was demoted to No. 3 on the depth chart, behind Joey Elliot, out of training camp.
A season-ending knee injury to Elliott, and now starter Buck Pierce’s famous ribs (that sounds like a dish at your local restaurant), have conspired to put Brink back at the controls, in front of that same crowd, against the two-time defending Grey Cup champs.
And while he’s played in relief a few times this season — played quite well, too — there’s nothing like starting, and he knows it.
So does his coach.
“Sometimes when guys go in, they just get thrown in,” Paul LaPolice said. “There’s no pressure involved. And adrenaline kicks in.”
And when they know they’re starting, they think about it. Way too much.
“It’s a whole different mentality than coming off the bench,” Brink said. “I know going into this, the type of mentality I have to have. I feel just so much more prepared than I did last year.”
If Brink’s confidence was in bits and pieces strewn across the field last October, he’s since found most of them and stuck them back together.
The guy’s stats are similar to Pierce’s this season: 64% completions, same number of touchdowns (two) as interceptions.
But there’s one thing Brink has learned watching Pierce that he never learned in college.
“Coming from the States you’re used to a lot of structure,” Brink explained. “In this league, you’ve got to be able to make plays from the quarterback position off schedule.”
In other words, improvise. Get away from the rush and make one up as you go.
It’s what makes Pierce special.
And something we don’t know if Brink can do.
Sometimes he looks like a guy so concerned with his mechanics and his reads, that he doesn’t just play.
Friday night, first place in the CFL East depends a lot on his play.
Welcome to the life of the starting quarterback.