While it’s certainly possible to respect Henry Burris’ spectacular play in Sunday’s epic Grey Cup, he sure does make it hard to be happy for him.
Especially if you’re a Ticat fan.
Burris was a surefire Hall-of-Famer even before the Ottawa Redblack’s 39-33 triumph over the Calgary Stampeders, but by winning his second title as a starting quarterback (and third overall), Burris has all but eliminated whatever asterisk was attached to his career. There is no Good Hank or Bad Hank anymore, only Great Hank.
Usually, such triumphs win the hearts of CFL fans, who enjoy the monkey-off-the-back storyline. Most diehards were pleased to see Montreal’s Anthony Calvillo shed his label as a Grey Cup choker with some late titles and there will be warm, fuzzy feelings in several markets if Kevin Glenn finds a way to conquer Sisyphus before he retires.
But Burris’ ability to leave his bridges incinerated by a mushroom cloud of spite and pettiness has left him with only the #RNation faithful singing his praises this week.
In Saskatchewan, they chant his name derisively every time he steps on the field more than a decade after he left town. Ticat fans didn’t appreciate his public shots at linebacker Simoni Lawrence and head coach Kent Austin last season. This week, he said the Stampeders — who traded him to Hamilton so he could remain an undisputed starter — were also on his list of grievances.
Even during his finest hour — and his performance on Sunday night can’t have enough superlatives attached to it — Burris found a way to make it even more about him. The pre-game knee injury was such that cynical hacks in the press box wondered aloud if Burris wasn’t, at the very least, aggrandizing the drama. Afterward, Burris called it his “Willis Reed moment” which is a label best left to outsiders to attach.
It will be interesting to see if Burris can maintain the affections of Redblack fans going forward. The contracts are structured so that the Trevor Harris succession plan should be implemented next season so if Burris decides to play another year, there could be yet more drama.
A championship ride into the sunset is likely the best trail to follow but the spotlight can be tough to leave, even for those who don’t enjoy it as much as Burris does.
Of course, part of what irks the former Burris jersey owners across the league is his relentless success, now capped by another title. Pushed out the door by Austin after a Grey Cup run in 2013, Burris has been to two title games and now has another ring on order. Hamilton has made it back to the big game but remains conspicuously jewelry-free.
There’s always a tendency to what-if when departed players find success elsewhere and Ottawa has a few former Ticats in their midst. But the decision to transition from Burris to the younger Zach Collaros made sense at the time and may still pay off for years to come, long after Smilin’ Hank has moved on to his next career grinning into a TV camera.
That said, many Hamilton fans took to social media to offer sincere congratulations to former Ticats like Greg Ellingson and Taylor Reed. There were a few for Burris, too, but for most a begrudging respect — not appreciation and certainly not love — is all they have to offer.