In the steamy, laughter-filled and claustrophobic visitor's dressing room at the Rogers Phone Booth and Internet Café late on Sunday afternoon, Henry Burris
seemed to be getting a few things off his chest so he could breathe again.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats
quarterback had spent the week before the CFL's East final as "the other guy" to Toronto Argonauts'
Ricky Ray -- a position he's become used to, but never accepting of, over a 14-year league career that has included more disappointments than thrills.
Now, after leading the Ticats to a Grey Cup berth with a remarkable, almost unbelievable 36-24
victory over the Argos, he had just been informed an emotional coach Kent Austin had said in the post-game presser that "[Henry] might be the most unselfish football player I have ever coached."
Smilin' Hank (as opposed to Bad Henry, a character he's played a bit too often in the past by tossing interceptions at inopportune times), had just gone 27-for-40, 371 yards and three touchdowns against the defending Grey Cup champs, and he was taken just a touch aback.
"I mean, it's tremendous, the gentlemen he's worked with in his career, he's worked with some stellar players," said Burris, surrounded by happy offensive linemen, including centre Marwan Hage, who has played 10 years and never been in a Grey Cup final.
"You know, to be able to play for a coach like that and help take the team to this level, I mean, I'm lost for words. I've enjoyed every step of the way with Kent, he's pushed me, we've fired back at each other, but in the end it's all for the same common purpose to win."
It's about here players tend to put the brakes on, already thinking ahead a week, but Burris was ready to talk now about Calgary, about the last few years, about this game and what it meant to him personally and for his team -- the downtrodden, disrespected, long-term laughing stock in Hamilton that has suddenly found sunlit uplands by heading to a final for the first time this century.
"It just seems a team wants to cast me off always, and all I've done is just try to enjoy the journey and try to give my team everything," he said, adding in a bit this "was why I was pretty emotional in the end [of the game]. All that I've been through in the past four years, getting cast out of Calgary, them telling me basically I wasn't good enough anymore."
Burris had started for seven years in his return to the Stampeders, a team where he started his career in 1998 before heading to Saskatchewan in 2000, bouncing around the NFL and NFL Europe for two more, and then playing a pair of others back with the Riders.
He left Regina as a free agent, and they still haven't forgiven him there.
In Calgary, a 2008 Grey Cup win was bookended by three semifinal losses before, and three West final defeats after. In 2011, young Drew Tate replaced him for the final three regular season games but, when that plan faltered in the final and the team was down 25-9 at the half, the White Stallions went back to Burris.
He couldn't pull it off and the fans, media and management basically shuffled him out of town.
"That really upset me when they just cast me away like I was nothing," he said after Sunday's win. "They told me to go save the world in the second half against Ricky [Ray, then with Edmonton].
"And the fact we didn't get it done, people turned on me like I wasn't good enough anymore, I couldn't bring the team back, and here I am inside of me thinking 'Man, in my mind I still think I'm the best quarterback in this league, and as a quarterback you have to believe things that way.'"
So to "The Hammer" he came, and played well for a poor team in 2012. This season Austin was hired, and he's someone who knows how to work with QBs as an excellent one himself. It all clicked in a unique kind of offence that also features the other pivots as well, especially on short yardage.
Still, he's never complained, and that's where Austin's praise came from.
In the East final, the first half had not been perfect -- 10-for-19, 144 yards, two TDs and a pick -- but Burris kept his club in it, taking them on a key three minute drive before the intermission that finished on a four-yard completion to Andy Fantuz.
They had been down 24-10 at the time while "the other guy" was lighting it up.
In the second half
, while the Ticats' defence shut out the Argos (Toronto had the ball for just 6:07 of the 30 minutes), Burris put on one of the best performances of his career -- 17-of-21, 227 yards, a touchdown, 33 yards rushing and no mistakes.
None. Take that, Stamps fans.
"I have a [four-year-old] son, Baron," said Burris. "I talked to him on Thursday night -- he didn't know what a Grey Cup was because he wasn't a part of it the last time when we made it.
"I want to get him a ring. I want to make sure when my days are dead and gone ... each and every one of my family members who have been on this journey with me, and all the heartaches, and all the fans screaming and yelling at me, and newspaper ads and TV and people just dogging me ... that's what it's all about for me."
Then Burris was gone to face the rest of the media horde outside the steam box. A man who knows what being under pressure means, and now happy to let a little off.
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