By Paul Wiecek
HAMILTON — Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce was unimpressed — and, he said, unconcerned — with the loud talk coming out of Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive end Stevie Baggs on Thursday.
“This is football, man. Everybody hits, everybody tackles, everybody puts a helmet on out there and (plays). I don’t have my radar set to Stevie Baggs in any aspect at all. We’re going to execute our game plan. We’re not too worried about it,” Pierce said after his club went through a light practice at Ivor Wynne Stadium Thursday afternoon in advance of taking on the Ticats here Friday night.
“I’ll give him credit — he’s a good player,” Pierce said. “But leave it on the field. Our guys up front — I think we still lead in sacks, don’t we? So I put my vote in for our guys.”
Earlier Thursday, Baggs made a point of licking each of the fingers on his right hand individually as he held court with the media at Ivor Wynne Stadium and discussed lining up against Pierce on Friday night.
“Finger-licking good,” Baggs laughed when he was asked if he was looking forward to facing a Bombers quarterback who has been suffering for a month now with a lingering case of sore ribs.
“I’m not trying to take a shot at him. But if I get a chance to sack him? Of course. I’ll put this 250 pounds on him and just lay on him a little bit and say, ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ Converse with him a little bit.”
Pierce sat out last week’s 32-26 loss to the Montreal Alouettes at Canad Inns Stadium but is scheduled to start for Winnipeg on Friday night.
The Bombers (8-5) have lost four of their last five games, while Hamilton (7-6) is on a two-game winning streak and can equal Winnipeg’s record with a win this week.
The Bombers beat Hamilton the last two times they faced them this season and Baggs — who’s always a colourful character but was in over-the-top form on Thursday — was asked if he feels like the Ticats have something to prove against Winnipeg on Friday.
“Is a pig pork? Of course we owe them one. They’ve got two wins on us this season. Is a cow beef? Yeah, we owe them one. No question. That’s the name of the game — to win. And they have two wins and we have zero. We can’t let them sweep us.”
A good-natured war of words — that even at one point included Tina LaPolice, coach of Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice — broke out before the Bombers last faced the Ticats in Winnipeg in late August, but things had been quiet this week until Baggs held court Thursday.
Asked if he still considered himself the premier defensive end in the CFL, something he contended publicly before the last time the two teams met, Baggs urged reporters to look beyond the quarterback sack race, where Bombers defensive end Odell Willis leads the league with 12 this season. Baggs has just five.
“Listen, here’s the deal, I’m going to put it out here — look at the tackles. Don’t just look at sacks for this season. Look at tackles, sacks, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, interceptions, touchdowns, special teams tackles. I’m talking about an all-around football player and I’m talking about Shakespeare,” said Baggs, who has the playwright’s name tattooed on his shoulder.
“Just go do your research. Ray Charles can see. And so can Stevie Wonder.”
Whatever, replied Willis.
“He’s paid to get sacks. If you want to have a hundred tackles, let him move to middle linebacker,” Willis said.
“The film and the stats don’t lie. It is what it is.”
Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown, who was a teammate of Baggs when the latter played in Winnipeg in 2006 and 2007, waded into the debate with a lighthearted barb at the posture of Baggs, who is noticeably pigeon-toed.
“If anything, Odell edges out Stevie just based on the fact his feet point the same way,” said Brown. “Other than that, they’re a dead-heat, both excellent defensive ends. But the one thing that puts Odell over the top is that when he’s lining up, he’s pointed the same way he’s going, OK?”