Confidence in Dinwiddie

The Idaho Statesman has a message from Boise State University football coach Chris Petersen for Bomber fans. To  anyone overly worried that Ryan Dinwiddie will be unable to fill in for injured starting quarterback Kevin Glenn in Sunday’s Grey Cup battle with Saskatchewan, Petersen said Dinwiddie is a “heck of a player, a great competitor.” Essentially, Petersen, who was Dinwiddie’s offensive co-ordinator during the Bomber pivots’ playing days at Boise State, said Winnipeg fans are getting the real deal in Dinwiddie, who emerged as a star with the Broncos. In fact, Dinwiddie holds numerous BSU passing records and a national college record for passing efficiency

“That guy will be ready to go ... I know he’s been preparing hard for a couple of years to get this shot,” Petersen told the Boise-based Statesman. “It’s now coming to a head for him. He’ll do a great job up there. He’s a tremendous competitor.” 

It’s coming together for Dinwiddie because he has finally got his big break in professional football after years of being shunted to the sidelines. What is the most amazing aspect for Dinwiddie and his university-days supporters is that his break is coming in the biggest game in Canadian football — the Grey Cup. For a rookie starter, who has only thrown 32 passes with the Blue Bombers, it would seem that the more appropriate sentiment would be that Dinwiddie is being thrown to the wolves with little hope of survival.

But Blue Bomber fans should note that almost everyone who has known Dinwiddie throughout his football playing career is convinced that the man from California is prepared for his day in the Canadian sun — artificial though it may be, since the 95th Grey Cup is being played under the dome in Toronto at 5 p.m.

Another assurance for fans is that Dinwiddie seems to be unfazed by his first start in the CFL’s “big dance.” In every interview he’s given since Glenn broke his left arm late in the Eastern Conference final, Dinwiddie has shown confidence that he can lead the Bombers to victory.

Bomber coach Doug Berry seems just as confident in Dinwiddie, calling him intelligent and fully prepared to perform the task assigned to him in the “big dance.” Pressure. Not for Dinwiddie. He has been in other pressure-packed situations and didn’t wilt.

Bronco fans remember the quarterback leading their team to Western Conference championships in 2002 and 2003 and a couple of bowl victories. Under the scrutiny of an America-wide television audience, Dinwiddie led the Broncos to victory in 2001 over the nationally ranked No.8 Fresno State Bulldogs. During the game, Dinwiddie outfought David Carr, the opposition quarterback who would go on to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. The NFL scouts came to see Carr, but they came away from the game also amazed by talent shown by Dinwiddie on the playing field when he led his team to an upset 35-30 win. During the game, Dinwiddie completed 20 of 32 passes for 297 yards andfour touchdowns.

Dinwiddie’s only  drawback for entry into the NFL was his size; only six-feet tall and a mere 180-odd pounds when soaking wet. The NFL wants big quarterbacks who are well over six-feet and 200 pounds.

When he did try out with the Chicago Bears in 2004, the team shuffled him off to play in now-defunct NFL Europe. He lasted a season in Europe for the Hamburg Sea Devils and was then in limbo until the Bombers came calling.

Bomber fans had only a fleeting glimpse of Dinwiddie’s talent and probably shuddered in unison when Glenn clutched his arm in agony. Who was Dinwiddie? No one had really seen him play in a Bomber uniform and probably everyone wondered about Winnipeg’s chances to take the Grey Cup with an untested quarterback at the helm.

But in the short time Dinwiddie filled in for Glenn last Sunday, he managed to complete four of four passes for 80 yards and bring the team to the Toronto Argonaut’s five-yard line. Fans undoubtedly gasped in disbelief when the option play with running back Charles Roberts was botched and Toronto came away with the ball. But what the heck. It was a mistake that could be forgiven, as Dinwiddie did show flashes of brilliance and he did move the team.

Hope was renewed in Bomber land. It may be his first start as a Bomber, and subsequently his first start in the CFL and in a Grey Cup game, but his brief Eastern final performance and assurances of his ability from coaches north and south of the U.S.- Canada border as well as from teammates, provides comfort to fans whom at first believed the potential to win the Grey Cup ended when Glenn dove for a fumbled ball and broke his arm.

Remember that the Bombers have a long tradition of firsts in the Grey Cup. In 1935, the Blue and Gold was the first Western team to win the cup, although they were the heavy underdogs. Until 1921, only Eastern-based teams had competed for the Grey Cup. And until 1935, everyWestern team that travelled east to battle for the cup, easily fell to Eastern teams.

Even Regina-based teams had a tough time against Eastern teams, losing seven times, including four Grey Cup games in a row.

Winnipeg also contested the only game that was played over two days. The Bombers were leading 28-27 over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the “Fog Bowl” of 1962 at Toronto’s CNE Stadium when with 9:29 remaining the game was called because fog obscured the ball and players. The next day, no points were added and the Bombers were Grey Cup champions.

This year’s 95th Grey Cup is another first in Canadian football history  as the contest pits two prairie teams against each other. It’s a quirk of the reformed CFL divisions. With the demise of the Ottawa Rough Riders, Winnipeg went to the Eastern Conference, allowing the potential for a match-up with the Riders. No one really expected such a match-up to arise as both prairie teams were underdogs in their respective conference finals.

Actually, Canadian football and the Grey Cup are noted for the unexpected. Don’t be too surprised when Dinwiddie emerges as the pleasant surprise of Sunday’s Grey Cup.