August 23, 2018

Carrying The Load

Quarterbacks are focal points.

Which makes them inviting targets.

A big, fat bulls-eye splattered on the front of the jersey, directly between the 1 and the 5 or the 1 and the 9, depending.

And the Bunsen-burner heat is not only generated by, say, a rampaging Adam Bighill blitzing with malice aforethought or Micah Johnson bulldozing his way through the belly of a beefy O-line as if it were made of origami.

Quarterbacks often need a hide thicker than their playbook.

“I think I heard (Jim) Barker said it best on the TSN panel: The day you become a starting quarterback, everyone wants you replaced,” says Stampeders’ pivot Bo Levi Mitchell. “So you’ve got to continue to prove yourself. Every single game. Every single year.

“People always want the next big, shiny thing, right?

“So criticism, fair or not, is something you’ve got to deal with.”

Recent case in point: Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Matt Nichols, a Mitchell pal and fellow Eastern Washington alum, who heard catcalls from the 27,000-plus on hand last Friday during a 40-21 pelting by Ottawa on home turf, at Investors Group Field.

Nichols threw for 291 yards and two TDs during the game but also was intercepted once and his fumble was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by the RedBlacks.

“I usually wouldn’t ever say anything like this and I probably even shouldn’t but I’m going to – the saddest thing tonight for me was I feel like I give my heart to this city and this team,” said Nichols, clearly frustrated, post-game.

Guys at the glamour position everywhere can relate.

“Hey, it’s part of the business,’’ reckons Stamps’ QB coach Ryan Dinwiddie, a seven-year pro who made his CFL start in a Grey Cup Game, of all places and times, for the Bombers in 2007. “It’s right there in the fine-print when you sign up to play the position:

“You’re doing to get too much credit when things go great and when they don’t, well, people are going to be quick to point the finger in your direction.

“Just like a head coach, right?

“You’ve got to have big shoulders to handle it. I can understand why Matt could be upset by it, hurt by it, because you’re going out there and giving your all.

“Guys who are prideful in the product they put on the field take it to heart. But at the same time you’ve got to know, hey, fans feel a certain way one week it doesn’t mean they’re turning their backs on you. They just weren’t happy with the play that night.

“The one thing that’s encouraging is that they care about football and they’re showing up, putting butts in the seats.”

Both the Stamps and Bombers, along with their respective leaders, are in rebound mode following Week 10 losses as they’ll collide on a rare Saturday matinee, 1:30 p.m., at McMahon Stadium.

Mitchell, too, felt the sting of criticism in the wake of a perfection-quashing 40-27 loss at New Mosaic Field, the sting of an early pick-six overriding a four-TD, 275-yard performance.

The Bombers are, doubtless, bracing for an ornery Mitchell while the Stamps fully understand they’re going to see Nichols in top form.

“He’s going to come out here and try to answer some critics, right?’’ reasoned Dinwiddie. “Same thing with Bo. We lost last week, too, so the best thing is to go out, play football and get that bad taste out of your mouth. I’m sure both quarterbacks are going to bring their A-games.

“It’s tough, when things aren’t going well. You’re not trying to not have a great game. You’ve put a lot of work into that week and maybe it doesn’t go your way.

“But when you’re a quarterback you’ve got to understand the big picture.

“Hey, they’re upset for a day. You go out the next week and play well, they’re your best friends again.”