Anatomy of a highlight-reel catch; B.C.’s Burnham relives TD grab vs Ticats

There’s a pleasant humility to Bryan Burnham that draws a sharp contrast to what he did for the B.C. Lions Saturday relative to those contributing around him.

He may have had the most discussed game in CFL history for a player who caught two passes for nine yards, because his only meaningful catch was his spectacular one-handed touchdown grab which was a dagger in the Lions’ 41-26 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

It put the 27-year-old receiver on ESPN and made him a social media sensation with friends and peers who reached out to acknowledge his catch almost as far as Burnham did to get his left arm on the ball as it was about to fall to the turf in the end zone.

But what Burnham proved, besides demonstrating an ability to decipher a game scoresheet, is his place in a league he wanted to call home for the next two seasons when others were imploring him to try the NFL last winter.

Those asking to talk to Burnham as the Lions this week prepared for a nasty matchup against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Friday had it suggested to them they should direct their interview requests towards teammate Nick Moore. All Moore did, of course,  was pull down 10 catches for a career-high 220 yards against Hamilton.

“That one catch overshadowed what Nick did; that was historic night for him,” Burnham said. “It’s a great feeling, getting that respect factor, getting tweets from S.J. Green and Bakari Grant. Those are guys I came into the league hearing about. For them to say ‘great job’ it kind of makes you realize you’re getting to that level.

“But now its time to put that catch into the rear view and concentrate (on Winnipeg).”

Not so fast.

Burnham may not have wanted to talk about his catch but days later his teammates were still buzzing over the play. The contested catch against Hamilton’s Keon Lyn was one thing. The fact Burnham maintained his balance, stumbling for several steps as he turned towards the throw from quarterback Travis Lulay, was something else.

Lulay noted the position of Hamilton safety Courtney Stephen as he approached the ball at the Hamilton six-yard line, and knew exactly where he wanted to go.

“I knew where my best (cover) zero-beater was and it was Burnham running to the corner. I got enough on the ball to get it to the corner. When I saw Burnham get up and react, I thought ‘he must have found a way to catch that.’ I didn’t know how dramatic that catch was until I saw it on the big screen,” recalled Lulay.

“That’s one of his strengths; catching contested balls. Burnham’s fast and explosive, more than people think, but putting himself in position to make contested catches that what makes him who he is. There’s a hint of ‘awesome catch’ but also we know that’s just Bryan.”

It’s just the result, Burnham said, of an approach that was developed from the days when he used to wait for his dad, former Philadelphia Eagles lineman Lem Burnham, would come home so he could play catch.

“I would tell him throw it as far as he could so I would have to work for it. That’s a testament to working hard when it looks like it doesn’t really matter,” said the Lions receiver.

“I was trying not to fall down. (Receivers coach Marcel Bellefeuille) always talks about ‘did you catch (the ball) with your eyes and hands.’ The entire way I had my eye on that ball. Up until that point in the game I’d only had one other target and in my head I’m thinking I might not get another one, I got to go get it. I definitely caught it with my eyes and fought through the (pass interference).”

For a six-yard catch, it was pretty dramatic. But Burnham’s reaction was also pretty typical.

After finishing fourth with 1,392 receiving yards with the Lions last year and a free agent as a 26-year-old, he was encouraged to tour the NFL last winter. However, while not regretting the experience Burnham also saw the cut-throat, longshot nature facing players with a CFL pedigree when trying to stick south of the border and opted for a two-year extension with the Lions.

So go ahead and talk about his catch; Burnham will talk about someone else.

“I think it was just feeding off everyone else’s success,” said Burnham. “The way Nick Moore was playing. I wanted to get into the action too. I really wanted to go out and make that play.”

Humble? Absolutely. Magnificent catch? That too.

LIONS TALES: Lulay will be behind centre against Winnipeg after the shoulder injury suffered against Hamilton by Jon Jennings, which was clarified by the Lions Thursday was a strain. Jennings said he’d be out of action “a couple of weeks” but the Lions are clearly going to err on the side of caution. TSN reported the club will next week bring in import Jake Heaps, who had a brief stint with the Seattle Seahawks and also was cast aside by the Saskatchewan Roughriders… Moore will get a chance to play against his former Winnipeg teammates but two other former Bombers are not expected to take part. Tony Burnett suffered a quad contusion against Hamilton and is expected to be replaced by rookie Michael Awe, with Dyshawn Davis added to the roster to play special teams. Also, Bryant Turner (ankle) has been sidelined in practice, yielding reps in the Lions’ eight-man defensive line rotation to Canadian Maxx Forde, who will make his first CFL start…. Missing in action is the most notable name associated with the Bombers,  Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Irving, who has been calling games since 1974. Irving will miss his first game since 2008 due to a minor medical procedure but says he will be back at work next week. Kelly Moore will handle the play-by-play alongside ex-Bombers legend Doug Brown


Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.