I've been telling anyone who will listen that Henry Burris is playing the best football of his career the last two years. I think it's only fitting to reflect on what has transpired over the last couple of seasons and why he's now at the top of his game.
It was only two years ago, about this time of the season, when things started going south and unraveling in a hurry for the likable quarterback. Burris was in a Calgary uniform for seven productive seasons guiding the Stampeders offence but that privilege ended abruptly, as he was replaced by the young and promising quarterback, Drew Tate.
You could tell that Henry had lost his edge and that something was missing. What that missing ingredient may have been, we may never know. But a change of environment is often times exactly what a player needs in order to regain his form and focus.
In the case of one Henry Burris, his move to Hamilton and his history with then head coach and offensive coordinator George Cortez proved to be extremely important. The magic was back once again.
The two were together in 1998 and 1999 when Cortez taught Burris the ropes in the CFL, and established a trust factor and relationship.
It just so happened that 1999 was the year I had the good fortune to join my new team, TSN. I found myself in the press box in Montreal doing color for the very first time and who was making his first career start in the CFL? “Smilin' Hank.” I can assure you on that day “Smilin' Hank” was much better in his first start than I was. He lit it up that day and gave an entire country their first glimpse of his special skill set and style of play. He had a cannon for an arm and tremendous ability to run with the football; he was elusive and could make something out of nothing. He was a magician
Back then, Cortez established the line of scrimmage with a solid run game and then utilized Burris' bazooka with play-action passes. This allowed the strong-armed gun slinger to pump the ball deep down field when the defence overcommitted to stopping the run.
He looked crazy comfortable that day. His numbers that day: 19-28 for 269 yards and two TDs to no interceptions, and six carries for 45 yards for a QB efficiency rating of 122.5. Safe to say, Burris certainly set the table for a storied career.
From cutting his teeth in Calgary for two seasons, taking over as the Rider Nation's quarterback in 2000, chasing an NFL career in 2001-2002, back to Saskatchewan for two more seasons, to his special seven-year run in Calgary, Burris consistently made the impossible look possible, and endeared himself to all.
But something had gone terribly missing those last few weeks in Calgary and his second go-round with Cortez in Hamilton would produce the player I first saw way back in that Montreal press box. The combination was once again explosive as Burris established career highs with 43 touchdown passes to only 18 interceptions to go along with his never-ending ability to hurt opposing defences with his legs (45 carries for 343 yards).
You could almost see the chip on his shoulder every time he took the field in 2012. The fire and focus was back and the magic returned.
I know that the only statistic that matters to Burris is the number of team wins at the end of the season, and in 2012 six was not enough! Ultimately, six wins was not good enough for Cortez to keep his job either as he was replaced by another offensive guru, Kent Austin this past off-season.
Ooooooohhh, the anticipation of having these two exceptional football talents together in Hamilton was almost too much for Ticat faithful to handle.
Well the “Super Pairing” has not disappointed! Austin continues to challenge the 14-year veteran quarterback to hone his skillset even more; get his blade even sharper. Watching these two work together this season has been extremely gratifying and a lesson in the importance of the little things/
Details, details, details. It's all in the details. Why? Because when you concentrate on fundamentals, pay attention to the smallest aspects of your technique, put in unprecedented effort towards excellence, good things will happen. The magic will return.
I know what it's like to be learning in years 13 and 14 of your career. I had to learn the “Run and Shoot” offence in my 13th year playing professional football. It's a beast and yet an exhilarating experience. It was my fifth offensive scheme to digest as a pro quarterback, so no big deal there – I knew the game inside and out, offensively and defensively – so it was just a matter of going back to the basics and burying myself in the fundamentals once again.
Subjecting yourself to the learning and teaching process is an extremely important aspect of it all. It can be very humbling! A huge motivator in all of this is you are with new teammates. You want to produce as anticipated and deliver on expectations from an established reputation. You have a unique chance to work with a clean slate and continue to reinvent and write the next chapter in your career. Like I said, it's a huge motivator!
I've seen it all year and the outcome of this renewed focus has been special. Enjoy the brilliant show folks, because I know for fact every time Burris takes the field he's giving his team a chance to win and it could be his last. For all the CFL, Ticats, and Burris fans out there, I hope not, because the MAGIC is back!