Time has done little to curb Henry Burris’s pain.
The veteran quarterback will lead the underdog Ottawa Redblacks into the Grey Cup game against Calgary on Sunday at BMO Field. It will be Burris’s first meeting of the season against the Stampeders and opportunity to avenge the organization’s decision to trade him to Hamilton after the 2011 season.
Burris, 41, hasn’t forgotten the bitter disappointment he felt being forced to leave Calgary after six productive seasons there that included winning a Grey Cup title (2008) and CFL outstanding player award (2010).
Burris led Hamilton to a Grey Cup berth in ’13 but was released in the off-season in favour of free-agent signee Zach Collaros. But Burris said being traded by Calgary was a much more bitter pill to swallow.
“When you create something and spend so much time and invest so much time into doing it and it’s taken away from you . . . it hurts,” Burris said Wednesday. “Do I still carry that with me? Yes, I do. I’m an athlete so you have to carry that motivation with you and it’s going to be visible this week.
“I’m looking forward to playing this game. I didn’t get the chance to play against a place I got to call home for a long time so I’m pretty excited for this game. But it’s the Grey Cup so you should be excited.”
Calgary (15-2-1) is a solid nine-point favourite versus an Ottawa team that finished atop the East Division with an 8-9-1 record _ the tie being a 26-26 home decision against the Stampeders. The Redblacks advanced to the Grey Cup with a 35-23 home win over Edmonton last weekend.
But Burris, the CFL’s outstanding player last season who led Ottawa to a Grey Cup berth against Edmonton, finds solace knowing he and his former Calgary teammates helped create the culture that currently exists there.
“When we went to Calgary, Calgary wasn’t this Calgary they are this year,” he said. “Out of all we had implemented in Calgary, the aura we had created within those walls was something that whenever you stepped into that locker-room you expect to be great.
“The same thing takes place there now and that’s what we started.”
Burris and the Redblacks have created a solid foundation, appearing in their second straight Grey Cup game in just their third season of operation. And yet the 17-year veteran doesn’t feel Ottawa gets the credit it deserves.
“It seems like no matter what we’ve done nobody just gives us respect,” he said. “Just like last week, nobody gave us a chance to beat Edmonton even at home and now we’re playing against Calgary.
“Well, Calgary is a very good football team, they’ve done a lot of great things this year but at the end of the day it’s all about playing football Sunday and the team that executes the best, takes care of the football and makes plays will win the game. And why not us?”
It’s been a difficult season for Burris. He suffered a finger injury in Ottawa’s season-opening win against Edmonton and was limited to just eight regular-season appearances, going 4-3 as a starter.
That prompted some football pundits to criticize Burris’s play and question his abilities. But Burris didn’t take the criticism lying down, publicly lashing out at his critics in August during a half-time television interview.
Burris made no apologies Wednesday for his actions.
“I firmly stand by that because this is who I am,” he said. “This has been my job for over 20-something years and I have nothing to prove.
“People still say, ‘Can he do it?’ Well, just watch my game, let me go out there and prove it. For an athlete, when someone tells you (that) you can’t do something, that only makes you stick your chest out and hold your chin up much higher because if you aren’t doing anything they wouldn’t be talking about you.”
A win Sunday would earn Burris a third Grey Cup title and offer an enticing opportunity to put a bow on a Hall of Fame CFL career. Burris is one of only three players to surpass 60,000 all-time passing yards and is a two-time league MVP.
He’s also making a fourth Grey Cup appearance since ’08.
“If this is it for me, then I want to make sure I go out with a bang,” he said. “If it isn’t, hey, why not do it one more time after this?
“The thing is right now it’s my time and I’m going to take full advantage of it. What I can control is this week and once this week is over, hopefully after the parade, after the bubbles from the champagne just kind of fizz away and all the wine and Chardonnay stops tasting good and it’s time to move on with life, then that’s when those questions will start swirling around the household with the family.”