EDMONTON — Henry Burris finally has his CFL outstanding player award.
The Calgary Stampeders quarterback captured the CFL’s top individual honour Thursday at the league’s awards banquet. He received 32 of the eligible 60 votes from the Football Reporters of Canada and the league’s eight head coaches to nip Montreal’s Anthony Calvillo.
“It feels so great to be acknowledged for all the hard work you’ve put in,” Burris said. “It could’ve gone either way but this is one memory I will always hold on to.
“It’s a surreal feeling. Once they called my name it took four, five seconds for it to sink in.”
But Calvillo will chase a bigger prize when he leads Montreal into the Grey Cup game against Saskatchewan at Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday (TSN, 4 p.m.,). The Riders upset Burris and the Stampeders — who posted a league-best 13-5 record — in last weekend’s West Division final 20-16.
“I was hoping I’d be one week later,” Burris said. “But congratulations to Riderville, we’ll see you next year.
“It was hard to sleep the last few nights because this was my Grey Cup.”
A gracious Calvillo, who had won the award the past two seasons, paid tribute to Burris.
“It’s very well deserved on his part,” he said. “It was definitely a toss-up but he definitely earned it.”
Burris wasn’t the only Stampeder honoured as offensive tackle Ben Archibald was named the top lineman. Calgary linebacker Juwan Simpson was a finalist to Hamilton’s Markeith Knowlton for top defensive player.
The other winners included Saskatchewan slotback Andy Fantuz (top Canadian), kick-returner Chad Owens of the Toronto Argonauts (special-teams) and B.C. Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian (rookie).
Calgary safety Tom Lysack received the Tom Pate Memorial award for outstanding community service. Saskatchewan linebacker Mike McCullough claimed the inaugural Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ award for demonstrating the attributes of Canada’s veterans in times of war, peace and military conflict.
And Mark Cohon presented the Commissioner’s award to ’Riders Nation, the rabid fans who support the Saskatchewan franchise.
Burris, a 13-year veteran, was a finalist to Calvillo for the 2008 outstanding player award and both he and kicker Sandro DeAnglis, up for top special-teams player, were both bitterly disappointed not to win. But the two finished the season hoisting the Grey Cup after Calgary beat Montreal 22-14.
“For me, it was never about holding a grudge,” Burris said. “It was the fact that we had a 13-5 record and none of our guys won their awards so we used that as motivation (to win Grey Cup).”
The six-foot-two, 219-pound Burris played a major roll in leading Calgary to top spot in the West Division standings. Burris, 35, was third in CFL passing with 4,945 yards and had a league-high 38 touchdown tosses but also threw 20 interceptions, second only to Saskatchewan’s Darian Durant (22).
Burris was also a multi-threat quarterback, rushing for 491 yards and three TDs.
Calvillo, 38, led Montreal to top spot in the East Division standings with a 12-6 record this season. Calvillo has also accumulated 68,161 career passing yards, leaving him well within reach of Damon Allen’s all-time mark of 72,381 yards amassed over 23 CFL seasons before he retired prior to the 2008 season.
The six-foot-one, 200-pound Calvillo appeared in 15 games this season, completing 67.6 per cent of his passes (380-of-562 attempts) for 4,839 yards. He threw 32 TD passes while giving up just seven interceptions and posting a CFL-high quarterback rating of 108.1.
The six-foot-four, 322-pound Archibald captured the top lineman award with 36 votes after being a finalist last year. The third-year Stampeder solidified an offensive line that allowed only 30 sacks (second-lowest in the CFL) and paved the way for a league-best rushing attack that averaged 145.4 yards per game.
“This means a lot to me on an individual level to be recognized for your efforts,” he said. “But also as a team to have one of these to represent your team means a lot.”
Hamilton centre Marwan Hage was the finalist.
Knowlton received 38 votes and was a versatile performer for Hamilton, registering 71 tackles. He had three sacks, three interceptions, a league-high six fumble recoveries and two blocked punts for a Ticats’ squad that posted a 9-9 record and finished second in the East Division and combined with Otis Floyd and Jamall Johnson to form one of the league’s top linebacking corps.
“This could’ve gone to either of those two guys,” Knowlton said. “I couldn’t have done this without them.
“I can’t say how excited I am. This is something I’ll cherish the rest of my life.”
Fantuz, from Chatham, Ont., received 53 votes for his outstanding campaign, which featured 87 catches for a career-high 1,380 yards and six touchdowns. He became the first Canadian since Calgary’s Dave Sapunjis in 1995 to lead the league in receiving.
“It’s a huge honour,” said Fantuz. “But being the recipient of this award I share with my teammates.
“This season has been special. We’ve had ups and downs but we’ve responded well and had a lot of fun games and fun plays. It’s been a pleasure to be part of.”
Hamilton slotback Dave Stala was the finalist after registering a career-best 85 catches for 1,015 yards and six TDs.
Owens was a unanimous selection after leading the CFL in punt, kickoff, missed field goal returns and all-purpose yards and finishing tied for the league lead in return touchdowns (four). He became just the fifth player in league history to have over 1,000 punt and kick return yards in a season.
“It was a very special year with a lot of big plays,” Owens said. “This award could’ve gone to three, four guys and I feel so blessed to be the one.
“I enjoyed myself and that’s what made me the player I was. We were a special unit headed by a special coach (former linebacker Mike O’Shea.).. It was a special group”
The finalist was B.C.’s Yonus Davis, who had three return TDs this season and league-best 25.5-yard kickoff return average.
Elimimian earned 36 votes for his solid first season with B.C., posting a team-high 78 tackles this season and five sacks. But Elimimian offered much thanks to Lions coach-GM Wally Buono.
“I was hurt during training camp and missed two weeks and a pre-season game,” he said. A lot of guys get cut just for getting hurt.
“But he (Buono) saw something in me and I’m thankful he stuck with me. I didn’t want to come to Canada because my dream was always to play in the NFL but God had a different plan for me and I’m glad he did because I had a great season.”
Hamilton’s Marcus Thigpen was the finalist. He became the first player in CFL history to score a touchdown in five different ways in a season (rush, pass, punt return, kickoff return, missed field goal).