Some of the biggest reasons for the Edmonton Eskimos to start 39-year-old quarterback Kerry Joseph in Sunday's East Division semi-final can be seen in game film from a late-August win over the Toronto Argonauts.
Eskimos head coach Kavis Reed has carefully studied the last contest between the Esks and Argos, taking note of Joseph coming off the bench to orchestrate a 26-17 win, showing veteran poise – extending plays with his legs, recognizing defensive looks, guiding the team out of an uncomfortable spot in its end zone.
Reed could have instead chosen to start 25-year-old Matt Nichols, who has convinced the coach that he is the club's next franchise quarterback. But facing a win-or-go-home playoff game at Rogers Centre, Reed went with the grizzled vet.
Joseph, 39, has bounced around the CFL for 10 seasons, on and off rosters and into numerous quarterback controversies. But having won a Grey Cup in 2007 (with the Saskatchewan Roughriders), Reed says Joseph's experience is invaluable.
"Facing a defence as strong and diverse as this one, I really felt that Kerry having seen it before and been down this road of playoff jitters and experience would make it very important for this team to have his leadership," Reed said Friday, after arriving in Toronto.
It will be Joseph's first playoff start since 2007, a season in which he was also the CFL most outstanding player.
The Toronto-Edmonton narrative has put a big spotlight on the quarterbacks.
It all started last December, when Esks general manager Eric Tillman traded two-time Grey Cup champion Ricky Ray to Toronto. (Tillman was fired last Saturday, as the enormously unpopular trade still reverberates in Edmonton.)
The starting job first went to Steven Jyles (who came over from Toronto in the Ray trade), but he stumbled in nine games. Nichols showed flashes of brilliance in recent action, but is still inexperienced. Joseph lifted the team to some wins and into the playoffs, but hasn't shown consistency.
Joseph's CFL career has had its peaks and valleys – which he says makes him very grateful for this opportunity.
He was a safety for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks from 1999-2002, before joining the Ottawa Renegades as a quarterback (a position he played in college and NFL Europe) in 2003. When that CFL franchise folded, Joseph went to Saskatchewan in the dispersal draft of 2006. But even after winning a Grey Cup there, he didn't score a big contract – he was dealt to Toronto in the off-season.
During his time in Toronto (2008-09), Joseph endured a quarterback controversy with incumbent Michael Bishop and the team won a total of seven regular-season games. The Argos missed the playoffs both years, which included a painful 3-15 record in 2009.
Joseph was released. And in October of 2010, he was out of football entirely when the Esks called him. In June of 2011, the Eskimos brought him back again.
"In 2010, I wasn't sure if I was going to get back into football, but I just kept in contact with people, kept working out and hoping I would get an opportunity. And that came for me when Kavis got the job," Joseph said. "Football is a great game, but a crappy business, and you deal with the punches. But the tough times did help me to build character.
"I still love the game so much, and it never entered my mind to say, 'no' and give it up."
A big part of Joseph's job is to mentor the club's young quarterbacks. And while the youngster, Nichols, could get into Sunday's game, the ball is Joseph's right now.
"Kerry and Matt's relationship really took hold, and he is doing an excellent job developing Matt," Reed said. "But Kerry prepares himself so well every day to start football games. And when you look at that kind of preparation, his command of the offence and the respect he has from his teammates, it wasn't a tough decision at all for me."