WINNIPEG - Matt Dunigan and Buck Pierce had a heart-to-heart about their heads on Monday afternoon, but it doesn’t sound like the former Bomber quarterback changed the current one’s mind.
Dunigan, the legendary CFL quarterback who took 12 head shots that knocked him out of games during his Hall of Fame career, told Pierce during a long phone conversation on Monday to think about his future instead of his team after his latest head injury, suffered on Saturday night against the Argos.
Pierce, it seems, isn’t ready to go there.
“He just wants to move on,” said Dunigan, who is now a TSN analyst. “I said, ‘Well, look at the big picture. Your football team’s 3-10, you just got engaged, you’ve got a restaurant out there in Winnipeg. You’ve got all kinds of upside. From a guy who’s been there and done that, 16 years later still dealing with post-concussion syndrome symptoms …’
“We talked openly and honestly about where I was at and where he was at and his mindset moving forward. Buck is at the point where he just wants to get to feeling better and concentrate on the Xs and Os. I said, ‘I get that, but take your warrior mentality, take a step back, and let’s look at all the other factors.’ And we talked about them.”
Pierce hasn’t been diagnosed with a concussion, and head coach Tim Burke said on his call-in show Monday night that the pivot no longer has a headache in the wake of the helmet-to-helmet hit he took from Argos linebacker Brandon Isaac. Dunigan doesn’t think that matters.
“From what I’ve seen and the shots he’s taken and accumulated, those things don’t go away,” he said. “They continue to add up, and they become more susceptible every time out. Buck and I talked about those things, but my gut (feeling) is I don’t think he’s at that point where he feels like he needs to assess his career.
“He’s looking at trying to get better and moving forward, because I don’t feel that he thinks this is a serious injury. This is a little hurdle to overcome, and he wants to move forward and go help his teammates at this point.”
When Dunigan sat out in 1996 due to his concussions, he was accused of faking it to collect a paycheque without playing. Now when Pierce takes a head shot that hasn’t even been diagnosed as a concussion, everyone is calling for him to retire.
“The priorities are right now, and we’re educated, and we can make more sound judgment on the future of athletes based on the information we have,” Dunigan said. “I just asked Buck to look at that. I asked him to not worry about his teammates right now. I said, ‘Your football team’s 3-10 and there are some guys on that team that don’t bring the character to the table that you do. And 16 years down the road they’re not going to worry about Buck Pierce being in a dark room suffering from post-concussion syndrome.’
“I said, ‘You gotta think about that. I know you want to go out there and help your teammates, but dude, I talk to two or three guys that I played with in 1996. That’s it.’ ”
Dunigan is still dealing with the head shots he took during his playing days. To this day he suffers from mood swings, loss of equilibrium, speech problems and memory loss.
“It’s part of the battle now, the opponent that I face on a daily basis, and I move forward,” he said. “I just deal with it.”
On Monday he tried to convince Pierce to think about the present so he doesn’t have to “deal with it” in the future. Dunigan also mentioned the momentary symptoms from the hits that “don’t even count” — ringing ears, seeing spots or the loss of peripheral vision.
“He was right there with me agreeing with those types of experiences that he has throughout the ball game,” Dunigan said. “I know the path he’s going down, and it’s a very courageous, very tough, very vicious, very rewarding, very gratifying, very difficult and all those things tied into one. Being a competitor and wanting to continue to strive to be the best, sometimes you become your own worst enemy.”
After Saturday’s game, Milt Stegall said on the TSN panel that Pierce should retire. Dunigan, sitting next to him, agreed. I asked him if he still felt that way two days later.
“That’s part of the problem,” Dunigan said with a rueful chuckle. “I can’t remember what I said.”