Henry Burris earns legendary status with Grey Cup win

Repeat after me.

Russ Jackson … Tom Clements … Henry Burris.

In the same sentence.

For the rest of his life, Burris will be able to walk the byways of Ottawa and be recognized by grateful sports fans in the same way as Jackson and Clements, modern-era quarterbacks of Ottawa champions.

This will likely mean something as deep as the Grey Cup ring Burris took the third-season Redblacks to on a wild, defensively awful, offensively incredible night at BMO Field, next to an uncharacteristically calm Lake Ontario.

Burris filled his own sails, and those of his teammates, without any windy help from mother nature. And he didn’t need it.

Jackson was the special one, a Canadian taking his Rough Riders to three championships in the 1960s, inlcuding two straight in ’68 and ’69, that latter as his final act on the imperial stage.

No. 12 … always in the heart of Ottawa.

Then, wearing Number Two … Clements throwing to Tony Gabriel at the old Exhibition Stadium in 1976 on a play known simply as The Catch. 

Now, wearing Number One. Proud, often confused that his due never seemed quite to arrive, dropped by Calgary and Hamilton for being too old as they went with a younger man.

Storybook career 

Bad Henry (a name he hates), that maddening guy who sometimes tossed wild interceptions and seemed to lose the thread in games, is gone — buried both by too many successes for it to matter now, and a 20-season story that turned up the happiest of overtime endings.

Henry Armand Burris, Jr., cinch Hall of Famer, two-time champion, two-time Grey Cup MVP — including tonight — is here to stay. Forever etched in yearly recaps for future Grey Cup audiences of “that time, in 2016″ when Ottawa’s famous QB pulled a great upset over a Calgary team they said couldn’t be beaten.

Is all this hyperbole? Not a chance.

Burris, playing on a bad knee that acted up on him in warm up and almost sent backup Trevor Harris into the proceedings, rose like a phoenix just as the teams were preparing for kickoff.

This Knight, on this night, completed 35 passes, tying Ricky Ray (2005) for the most ever in Cup game. He tossed for 461 yards, fourth best all-time.

And, as though Father Time was upstairs cheering along, Burris became the oldest QB to win the silver chalice. To be precise, 41 years and 177 days, beating Damon Allen by 61 (2004).

Burris, like another legend in Michael “Pinball” Clemons, can take a question and run with it for half an hour. This night, surrounded by his family, his parents Caresse and Henry, Sr., and an adoring Redblacks nation, nobody minded in the least.

He’d earned the right to tell his own tale, for as long as he wanted.

“This is one of those moments you dream about, and when that game ended on that last incomplete pass [by Calgary's Bo Levi Mitchell], it was like ‘What’s going on right now?’,” he said. “Because it felt so surreal.

“The moment kicked in … emotions started going crazy … we’ve been through so much this year to reach this moment.”

He meant the team. We’ll focus on him.

Whirlwind season

Burris began the season as the starter, was hurt, returned only to be relegated to backup, then came on when Trevor Harris faltered to play some of the best football we’ve seen from him since … well, last year when he took this unexpected Redblacks side to its first Cup try.

After an 8-9-1 injury filled struggle, Ottawa pounded Edmonton in the East final and wound up in the dance again, with a great partner to perform with.

Harris, in the dressing room afterwards and well aware this team is his whenever Burris retires (the latter said a decision would be made soon), was filled with admiration for the old man who had just breasted a sea of Stampeders.

“He was just locked in all week,” said Harris, in a spray of champagne and a fug of cigar smoke. “You could tell by the way he practiced, the way he prepared, he was going to come out and show up tonight.

“You expect nothing less from somebody who is going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer.”

The backup, who very well may become a star in his own right, was thrilled.

“You get up in his age, you start wondering how much time you have left, how many plays you have left. For him to win a Grey Cup in this stage of his career, I’m so happy for him.”

If that last play of the night was the last one from Burris, it was an outstanding ending.

In CFL stats talk, it is stark — Play 163 … C18 … 2/9 … H BURRIS completed pass to E. Jackson (18 yds.) Touchdown.

Reality was more beautiful — a sharp pass, a triple bobble by Ernest Jackson, who hadn’t dropped a ball all season, and a grasp for six points.

Calgary couldn’t match it. Game was over.

Up in a private box stood Russ Jackson, 80 years old, beaming. Welcome aboard Henry.

Well deserved. 

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