They say you can always come home no matter what but Toronto Argonauts’ running back Andrew Harris isn’t so sure.
“I don’t know if I’m gonna be allowed to get back in Winnipeg again. I might get stopped at the Ontario border when I’m driving back,” the standout Canadian running back quipped at the podium after defeating his hometown Blue Bombers in the 109th Grey Cup.
“Shoot, if I had it my way, I would have never ever left Winnipeg. But it is what it is.”
This isn’t the first time that Harris has broken the hearts of Manitobans on Canadian football’s biggest stage. In 2011, he was named the Most Valuable Canadian as the B.C. Lions toppled the Bombers, though he atoned for that affront by returning home as a free agent in 2016. He then helped the Blue Bombers end a 29-year Grey Cup drought in 2019 before repeating the feat the following season.
This time, forgiveness may not come so easily.
The Argos’ 24-23 victory on Sunday night spoiled the Bombers’ hopes of becoming the first team to win three consecutive Grey Cups in four decades. While his impact on the game was not nearly as substantial as it had been in the past, it was impossible to ignore the presence of the future Hall of Famer on the opposite sideline.
“Playing the [Winnipeg] guys was fun. It was an emotional game but at the end of the day, it’s about the guys in this Argos’ locker room. It’s not about anything else,” Harris told reporters, champagne bottle in hand.
“I left that chapter behind me and it is what it is. It’s my hometown. I love Winnipeg, I love every single one of those guys on that other team. When you’re going against another team, you gotta go to battle so that’s what it is. Tons of respect for them and I’m just so excited for my teammates in that locker room and how we performed tonight.”
This was not the type of chest-beating celebration fans have come to expect from Harris over the last number of years. He was more subdued and pensive and appeared to hide much deeper feelings behind a veneer of quiet confidence. At times, a wave of emotion seemed close to cracking through, before he swallowed them with a satisfied smile.
“It’s a storybook ending to a great season, to an emotional season, an emotional year,” Harris explained. “I had my son a few days ago. I left the city where I thought I would never be leaving again, became bonded with a bunch of new teammates, new characters, new coaches, new everything and it was just an amazing journey and no better way to cap it off than like this.”
The 35-year-old ball carrier played just eight regular season games for the Argos before a torn pectoral muscle relegated him to the sidelines. He stuck with the team and made a miraculous recovery, leading the team in rushing throughout the playoffs.
He finished with 10 carries for 55 yards on the frosty Regina turf, adding one catch for 14 yards. Harris’ shining accomplishment came midway through the first quarter when he hurdled former teammate Brandon Alexander for a 16-yard gain and sent a message that the Argos had come to play.
“I know B.A. likes to bring the hit stick and I saw him kind of get a little low and I saw the opportunity,” Harris said with a glimmer in his eye. “That one definitely felt good.”
It was American back A.J. Ouellette who drew the call on both of Toronto’s touchdown runs, but Harris set the tone for the victory off the field. He noted the similarities between the Argos’ underdog story and his first championship with Winnipeg in 2019, a scrappy third-seed that wasn’t expected to defeat the 15-3 Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Since arriving in Toronto, he took it upon himself to help change the culture and bring a little bit of that Bombers’ mentality with him, something that paid dividends in a tightly contested game in which the Boatmen were rocked by adversity.
“Early in the season, our team would have folded the tents and we would have been yelling and screaming at each other and fighting on the sidelines,” Harris said. “We stuck together today and I’m so proud of that more than anything because we have so many fighters and people that have been through so much on this team. They play with an edge, they have an attitude and today, we sacrificed for each other and we stuck together for each other and that’s a beautiful thing.”
With over 10,000 yards rushing and four championships under his belt, the veteran back has nothing left to prove. Throughout Grey Cup week, Harris was surprisingly honest about the possibility of retirement and laid the foundation for a second career in coaching while rehabbing his injury. A competitive fire remains within him but he seems more at peace with the inevitable end, though those discussions will have to wait until after the Argos’ celebration is long over.
“I not thinking about that right now,” Harris said. “I’m just gonna enjoy this and we’ll get through Christmas and then we’ll go from there.”
Should he opt to step away after 12 seasons, there would be no more fitting end to his career than defeating the Blue Bombers. Just don’t call it revenge for the disrespect of his departure.
“Nah, no,” Harris said when asked about that particular motivation, grinning knowingly. “This is just a championship for the Argos.”