January 24, 2017

Former teammates react to Burris retirement

QB Henry Burris

There was always that rocket-launcher of an arm. Those elasticized pins allowing him to wriggle him out of scrapes that’d test the escapability powers of Indiana Jones. An improv ability worthy of Robin Williams off on a stand-up riff.

Beyond those between-the-lines gifts, though …

“Hank’s legacy?’’ ponders a collaborator of long standing, slotback Nik Lewis. “That smile. That laugh.

“Smilin’ Hank, right?

“That’s what people will remember.

“Man, we all know when Hank smiles, the room just lights up.”

As brilliantly as Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Today, everyone who loves the three-down game with all that motion, those quirky rules and end zones the size of Rhode Island can smile along with Smilin’ Hank.

The Calgary Stampeders’ all-time leading passer has called it a career in the Nation’s Capital at an evergreen 41.

Over 19 seasons, in the final analysis, Burris beat Father Time just as has beat secondaries all those seasons and overcame the Good Hank/Bad Hank barbs to write a stunning final chapter to an epic novel.

However painful it might’ve been for the Stamps and their faithful in the wake of the 39-33 Grey Cup OT loss at BMO Field in late November, it allowed Henry Burris to leave on top. A champion.

“It’s good see him be at peace with it,’’ says Lewis, who spent seven seasons as a teammate down at McMahon Stadium. “We don’t all get to choose when we retire.

“And we definitely don’t all get to win Grey Cups and retire.

“Hank took two different teams to the Grey Cup three out of four years. I mean, really what’s left for him to come back and do unless he just wants to chase records?

“Even then, he’s got to dedicate himself for how many more years to get to No. 1?

“If you’re just coming back to chase records, I tell people, that’s not the right reason.”

Calgary Stampeders' quarterback, Henry Burris looks to slotback Nik Lewis during practice in Calgary on Nov. 14, 2008. (Photo by Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh)

Quarterback Henry Burris looks to slotback Nik Lewis during practice in during the 2008 season (Photo by Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh)

From Dallas, another former pitch-and-catch pal, Ken-Yon Rambo, sent his regards.

Running routes for Burris beginning in 2005, Rambo topped the CFL in receiving in 2008 with 1,473 regular-season yards collected his only Grey Cup ring after the 22-14 win over the hometown Montreal Alouettes at Olympic Stadium.

“What’d he play, 7,000 years?’’ laughs the retired wideout. “Well, I’d say they were 7,000 pretty good years.

“I quit three years ago, he played 10 years before I started and was still winning championships at the end. What more can you say?

“I know he’s retiring but I’m sure he could play another couple seasons if he wanted.

“Henry just had that fire, man. The will to win. That won’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude. Throwing the ball. Running the ball. No-look passes. Scrambling out of trouble. Getting that extra yard to move the chains. And it shows. Statistically. In Grey Cups.

“It shows.”

Burris may exit a RedBlack but much of his niche in CFL history has been carved wearing red and white: Most career yards (32,191), passing attempts (3,677), completions (2,267) and TD tosses (203), an MOP bauble and two league titles.

“I always remember the second half of (’08) the Grey Cup,’’ reminisces Lewis, “the way he took the game over with his legs.

“His ability to get out of the pocket, buy himself time to make those throws, that’s what allowed us to do the things we needed to win.

“We underachieved winning only one Grey Cup through those years but we had fun and we did some really good things. Hank was a big part of that.

“At the end of the day, he’s an outstanding person and an amazing athlete.”

Offensive lineman Jeff Pilon blocks for uarterback Henry Burris on July 28, 2007. (Photo by Canadian Press/Larry MacDougal)

Offensive lineman Jeff Pilon blocks for quarterback Henry Burris on July 28, 2007. (Photo by Canadian Press/Larry MacDougal)

Another of Burris’s old Stampder gang, bodyguard/OT lineman Jeff Pilon, remembered the warrior on retirement day.

“I’m super happy for him,’’ says Pilon. “He’s had his ups and downs over his career but to go out the way he did, with what he’s done for the communities he’s played in, is only fitting.

“The ultimate way to say goodbye.

“Always a guy that wants to include everybody in the locker room. You knew: When Hank’s on, nobody’s going to beat us.

“As an offensive lineman, you also knew that if you screwed up, he was going to make you look OK because he’d somehow get out of there and make a play.

“And his arm? Oh my god, that thing was a cannon. You’d watch him throw, he’d scramble out of the pocket, complete the pass and you’d be standing there, kind of in awe, like: ‘OK … he just threw it 80 yards, against his body!!!?’

“Pretty impressive.”

The totality of the career – 4,666 completions, 63,576 yards and 376 TDs, two MOPs, two Grey Cup MVPs – is mighty impressive, too.

Walking away, cautions Pilon, from experience, is no small matter.

“When you’re done something for long and been so passionate about as Hank has, unless you’ve been there and done it, you can’t appreciate the way your life changes.

“You’ve heard this a billion times but nobody enjoys the pounding and all the BS that goes with the game. What you love are the guys, you love the camaraderie and you love the competition. That he’ll miss. Big time.

QB Henry Burris talks to coach Dickenson during the 2009 season

Quarterback Henry Burris talks to assistant coach Dave Dickenson during the 2009 season

“I really hope he can stay in it, mentor other quarterbacks, get into coaching, something like that.

“He has a lot to give. He’s a good communicator and a smart guy.

“You know, I had the chance to play with Khari Jones and Danny McManus. You’re in the huddle with Khari Jones. He has that presence. You’re in the huddle with Danny Mac. He has that presence.

“Hank had that presence.

“You want to play for the guy, give him that extra, because you know that’s what you’re getting from him.

“An honour, man. It really was.”

When asked for a farewell message from deep in the heart of Texas, Rambo – speaking for himself, for Calgary, for CFL aficionados everywhere – didn’t hesitate in reply.

“I would say: Good luck with your endeavours. You had a great career. One of the greatest the CFL has ever seen. Best of luck to you and your family.

“And enjoy the rest, man. You’ve earned it.

“On to the next chapter.”