Veteran Lions’ receiver Bryan Burnham relishes ‘special feeling’ of home playoff return

Photo courtesy: Jaclyn McKee/B.C. Lions

At 32 years old, Bryan Burnham is viewing the opportunity to start a home playoff game in a different light than he used to.

“When I was younger, coming into the league, making the playoffs was just what happens. When I got here, I think the Lions had made the playoffs for 20 years in a row,” B.C.’s longest-serving pass-catcher told the media this week.

“I’ve been in the league for eight, nine years now, and I’ve been through stretches where we didn’t make the playoffs and we struggled to be a crossover. You realize how much work it takes to secure a home playoff game and how special that is, especially in the West. Damn man, it’s such a special feeling to be in this position.”

The Lions are scheduled to host their first home playoff game since 2016 on Sunday when they face off against the Calgary Stampeders in the West Division Semi-Final. Just five players — Burnham, defensive backs T.J. Lee and Loucheiz Purifoy, linebacker Bo Lokombo, and defensive lineman David Menard — are still on the roster from that game, a 32-31 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

With the upper deck opened for just the second time this year, the Lions are expected to match that game’s atmosphere with a larger crowd in attendance.

“I don’t really remember the crowd all that well, I think someone said it was under 20,000, which was a surprise, but I’m expecting way more than that this weekend,” Burnham noted. “It’s crazy that it has been that long since we’ve had a home playoff game at BC Place and we’re going to go out and try to make it a memorable one.”

The Lions’ resident provider of highlight-reel catches has had a difficult season, missing the final five games  with a fractured wrist. It was his second significant injury of 2022 after broken ribs and a punctured lung caused him to sit out four games earlier in the year.

Nevertheless, Burnham has made 41 receptions for 596 yards and four touchdowns over nine games this season, making him the team’s fourth-leading receiver behind Dominique Rhymes, Keon Hatcher, and Lucky Whitehead. The last of those dazzling offensive weapons, Whitehead, is not guaranteed to play this weekend due to an ankle injury, but Burnham will be back in the saddle.

“It feels like I’ve been out there the whole time,” he said of his return to action. “It felt so good; I just got excited this morning and it just dawned on me that we’re back at practice, and I get to go back out there and work with my guys.”

Burnham’s excitement can only be matched by the buzz around record-setting young quarterback Nathan Rourke, who is scheduled to play his first full game on Sunday after returning from a Lisfranc injury in the final week of the regular season.

With his hands at full strength, Burnham is relishing the opportunity to once again catch passes from the generational pivot.

“It’s good to see him back out there,” the receiver acknowledged. “I know he loves the game of football and he hated being on the sideline watching, so I’m excited for him to be back out there, to be the general and lead us to victory.”

Despite the high expectations, B.C.’s young battlefield commander boasts no playoff experience. It therefore falls to veterans like Burnham to let their young charges know just how high the stakes are in game like this — something the five-time all-star appreciates more than ever.

“You try to remind them that there’s no tomorrow; it’s all about now,” he stressed. “You can’t sit here and think about the next week. We have to handle business.”

“I don’t think the guys really need much of a reminder but it’s definitely something that I’ve touched on.”