It may not be a blue-collar city, but Torontonians have always had a soft spot for blue-collar athletes.
Grit, heart, effort. Add a big personality and you’ve got a potent formula for a fan favourite in the Big Smoke.
After all, it’s what turned role players like Tie Domi, Jerome Williams and John McDonald into beloved Toronto sports figures.
Come June, Toronto native Brian Bulcke may very well be the newest addition to the list.
“I’m going to bring that gritty down’n’dirty, down in the trenches D-Line style to the Argos,” he said.
“I’m tough and determined. A motor player who’s going to keep going and give it everything I’ve got. It doesn’t matter how it looks or if it’s pretty or not. It’s just about being there for your team and being there for your city.”
When the Argos signed the 6-foot-4, 281-pound defensive tackle away from the rival Hamilton Tiger-Cats, they added a Canadian in the prime of his career showing no hesitation to do the dirty work that often goes unnoticed.
A hard-nosed defender that puts his team above personal statistics is always welcome on the defensive line, just ask rush end Ricky Foley.
“When I heard we signed him I was
through the roof,” said Foley.
“His style of game is relentless. A fired-up, passionate guy. Fired up for his teammates just as much as he is for himself. He’s relentless, man. He’s unselfish. He’ll take two guys on in the middle to let a guy on the edge get free.”
The blue-collar mentality was engrained into Bulcke during his college days at Stanford, partly in thanks to then head coach Jim Harbaugh.
“I kid you not, we wore blue collars for a couple years rather than white dress shirts because we wanted to tear away from the Stanford stigma and build a new hard working tunnel worker-esque mentality,” said Bulcke.
“That grit was definitely something I brought to Calgary and Hamilton. Now I get to bring it to my own backyard.”
After beginning his CFL career with the Stampeders, Bulcke came to the Ticats in 2013 and had a breakout year, setting career highs in tackles (24), sacks (3) and fumble recoveries (3). He was nominated as the team’s Most Outstanding Canadian and Defensive Player, to boot.
Luck hasn’t been on Bulcke’s side since, missing the second half of the 2014 season and the entirety of 2015 with bicep and knee injuries.
But at 28, there’s little concern that it’s a sign of things to come.
“I went my entire football career without missing games. By law of averages I was due for one or two injuries, so now I’ve got them out of my system.”
GM Jim Barker isn’t too concerned, either.
“We wouldn’t have signed him if we didn’t think (injury problems) were out of the way,” he said. “We’re taking a whole new tact on injuries in terms of preparing players. That’s a priority for him.”
Leaving Hamilton wasn’t easy, as Bulcke calls it one of the toughest decisions of his life. But after signing on the dotted line, he immediately reached out to an old friend from his hometown of Windsor, Ontario.
“I sent a text to Josh Bourke.”
Bourke had signed with the Argonauts a few days earlier after spending eight all-star caliber seasons on Montreal’s offensive line.
“Us Windsor boys coming together is always something that we joked about so once free agency came up he was in my ear and I was in his. We’re both excited that we get to play together.”
The duo combined has two Grey Cup rings and six Grey Cup game appearances, and with the 104th Grey Cup being held at BMO Field, their experience will be invaluable.
“He’ll bring leadership, he’s won everywhere he’s been,” said Barker.
“I think he’ll be a guy that with our younger players will be a motivator and keep that group together. Between he and Ricky Foley we have two defensive linemen that have both played at the very top of this league and that can go a long way.”
Bulcke’s yet to capture a Grey Cup ring of his own, but sees the potential for a storybook ending to 2016.
“Talk about serendipity right? It’s the year I get to play with another hometown boy like Josh Bourke, I get to play with a bunch of guys I already live in the city with, I get to play in an audience filled with my friends, it’s a year where we have the Grey Cup in our city in a brand new stadium.