TORONTO — Henry Burris carries a chip on his shoulder wherever he goes. At the 104th Grey Cup, the Ottawa Redblacks quarterback did it with a limp.
The 41-year-old Burris’ left knee seized up during warmups Sunday.
“All of a sudden I just felt a crunch, pop,” he said later after hobbling into the post-game news conference at BMO Field. “My knee just felt like it kind of went unstable or buckled on me.”
He thought the discomfort was temporary, so he kept moving.
“But then it continued to do it again and again and again,” he said. “Then I was like ‘No, please don’t tell me this is happening right now.”’
As Burris headed back to the locker-room for medical attention, speculation swirled that he might not be able to play against the favoured Calgary Stampeders. But after the Tenors performed a controversy-free version of O Canada, Burris was back throwing on the field.
The Redblacks medical staff tightened his bulky brace so he couldn’t fully extend his knee, because that’s where the pain came.
“They did some things, gave me some happy pills to make sure I didn’t feel as much pain. They moved it around to get it into a place of comfort to where I could manage it,” he said.
Burris tested the knee in the locker-room and was confident he could do enough to help his team.
“Henry said ‘If I’m good to go, I’ll let you know,’ and obviously he was,” said Ottawa coach Rick Campbell.
The 17-year CFL veteran went out and ran for two (short) touchdowns and threw for three more in the Redblacks’ 39-33 overtime upset win, pulling the strings in a championship thriller that brought Ottawa its first CFL title in 40 years. He was good on 35 of 46 pass attempts for 461 yards — the fourth most in Grey Cup history — earning MVP honours while becoming the oldest quarterback to hoist the championship trophy.
He showed his savvy in doing so, freezing the Calgary defence with deft fakes all night.
Burris, named the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 2015, also won the Grey Cup title and MVP honours as a Stampeder in 2008 after throwing for 328 yards and running for 79 more in Calgary’s 22-14 win over Montreal at Olympic Stadium.
He first won the Grey Cup in 1998 with Calgary, watching others play in front of him.
After being dubbed Good Hank and Bad Hank at different times in his career, he wears his heart on his sleeve as shown by a halftime interview with TSN in August.
“For people out there, I’ve turned around four teams in this league. And I’ve done help do it here too,” he said. “So all the people talking junk, you can take that and shove it. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
His Redblacks family has his back.
“He’s a 41-year-old man that’s played a long time and you can count probably on one hand the guys that are able to do that that long,” said Campbell.
“Hank is a champion,” said Ottawa defensive co-ordinator Mark Nelson. “Hank is a warrior.”
“I’m just happy and honoured to play with a man of that calibre on and off the field,” added defensive back Abdul Kanneh.
Burris, one of just three CFL players to pass for more than 60,000 career yards, set 20 school passing records during his four-year career at Temple.
As a pro, he previously played in Calgary (1997-99 and 2005-11), Regina (2000 and 2003-04) and Hamilton (2012-13). He also spent time with the Green Bay Packers (2001), Chicago Bears (2002) and Berlin Thunder (2003) of NFL Europe.
His memory is razor-sharp. Underneath that beaming smile, Burris remembers every slight along the way, every team that showed him the door.
The Stampeders let him go. So did the Tiger-Cats.
“They told me I wasn’t good enough anymore. They cut me,” said Burris.
The chip grew during Grey Cup week. In his post-game media session, Burris listed just about everyone who had written the Redblacks off.
“It was like ‘Why did we show up?”’ he said.
“It all added up. We heard what people were saying about how great they were. They can’t lose,” he added.
That is rocket fuel to Burris’ competitive fire.
Asked if Sunday’s performance might lay his personal ghosts to rest, he said he hoped so.
“Because really what else can they say right now? For all the things that they say I can’t do, and the Good Hank and the Bad Hank, I mean what’s bad in winning a championship? With an organization that’s only been in existence for three years”