When Trevor Harris signed with the Edmonton Eskimos in February, the Ottawa Redblacks didn’t just lose their starting quarterback. They also lost the face of their franchise.
As the only pivot other than Henry Burris to play significant time under centre since the franchise’s foundation, the loss of Harris landed like a blow across R-Nation.
During Harris’ three years in the nation’s capital, there was a rarely a dull moment.
Whether it was coming in cold during the first game of the season in 2016 and hitting Chris Williams in stride for a 71 yard touchdown and completing his next ten passes, to nearly starting the 2016 Grey Cup, to stumbling out the gate in 2017 with a 1-7-1 record, to a disappointing playoff loss and the questions that came with it, to a division crown in 2018 and the single greatest quarterback playoff performance in CFL history, to the pain of a Grey Cup defeat.
Harris’ highs were sweet and his lows bitter. So how should he be remembered by R-Nation? Legacy is a tricky thing to define, but as the initial sting of seeing him leave town fades, and by delving into the numbers, one can try.
Over the past three seasons, Harris started 45 games for the Ottawa Redblacks. Forty-two starts came in the regular season and of those, Harris won 21, lost 19 and tied twice. In those games, Harris threw 68 touchdowns to 26 interceptions, completed 70.9% of his passes, averaged 8.8 yards per pass attempt and 297.6 yards per game.
In his first season with Ottawa, Harris kept the team afloat while Burris was out with an injury, going 4-5-1. In his second season, the Redblacks went 8-9-1 and finished second in the East. In his third (and final) season with the team, despite a scary looking pre-season knee injury, Harris missed no time, started 17 consecutive games and went 10-7, good enough to finish 1st in the East.
When talking legacy, playoff performances are given extra weight. Careers are defined by clutch performances or failing to get the job done. In his three post-season starts (one win and two losses), Harris threw nine touchdowns to five interceptions, completed 68.2% of his passes, averaged 8.9 yards per pass attempt and 370.6 yards per game.
In the 2017 East Semi-Final against Saskatchewan, Harris started hot before throwing an untimely interception and never recovering. In the 2018 East Final against the Ticats, he put together a game for the ages, completing 90% of his passes and throwing six touchdowns, but underwhelmed in the Grey Cup, completing only 52% of his passes and throwing just a single touchdown.
Overall, Harris’ career record is 22-21-2 as Ottawa’s starting pivot. Given his gaudy stats, it’s somewhat surprising that during his time with the Redblacks, the team was barely better than .500. Harris’ longest winning streak as a starter was three games, which happened twice. His longest losing streak was also three games, which again happened twice.
If a quarterback is judged solely on wins and losses, it’s hard to see the Harris era as anything other than slightly above average.
With Harris, the question of “eliteness” often arises. Those who believe Harris is point out that when he’s on top of his game, he is nearly unstoppable, synchronized with his receivers and orchestrating a blistering attack based on excellent ball placement. They highlight that even on bad days, Harris can rack up yards with the best of them.
Those who believe otherwise note that in 2018, Harris only completed 48% of his passes on 2nd down and 39% of his pass attempts beyond 20 yards. They point out that when pressured, his lack of mobility leads to unnecessary sacks, bad decisions and off-target throws.
The truth is relative but somewhere in the middle. Harris is indeed capable of singlehandedly taking over a game; that’s an elite quality. But he’s also not quite as consistent as Bo Levi Mitchell and Mike Reilly. Still, he’s in the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the league.
Legacies don’t live in a vacuum. Perhaps more difficult than any on-field opponent, Harris faced was the challenge of stepping out of the long shadow cast by Henry Burris’ time with the organization.
Being the guy tasked with stepping into the void left by Burris’ charismatic personality and the championship he delivered (the city’s first in four decades), was always going to be a tall order. Some in R-Nation were never fond of Harris simply because he wasn’t Burris and didn’t have that larger than life personality.
While his time in the nation’s capital didn’t end the way many fans wanted, Harris certainly did enough to make them wonder if perhaps the 32-year-old’s best is yet to come. And maybe that’s what will stick with R-Nation.