WINNIPEG—What fuels a 40-year-old quarterback? For the Ottawa Redblacks' Henry Burris, who was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player Thursday after a career season, it's at least partly a desire to prove the teams who gave up on him wrong. Burris was traded by Calgary ahead of the 2012 season and released by Hamilton ahead of the 2014 season. He said Thursday night after winning his second career Most Outstanding Player award that the motivation from being passed over by those teams helped him get to this level.
"Of course, first and foremost is playing for my family, my friends, my teammates and my city, that comes before anything," he said. "But it's not so much vindication, but people telling you 'You can't.' Of course, that little train who always thought he could would always say, 'Yes, I can, yes I can." For me, when two organizations gave up on me and moved forward, hey, I understand the business, but as an athlete, I want to get back at you. That's how I was taught, that's the way I'm taught to play the game, and I've been around a lot of successful players, Warren Moon and those guys and Damon Allen, and guys like Damon and Warren both told me 'When teams didn't think I had it, that's when I went and showed them otherwise.'"
Burris said he took those lessons to heart.
"I kind of latched on to that and that's why I have this vindication mode, to be able to prepare my body and my mind to go out there and have the best season I can each and every season and outtrain and outprepare even the young guys that are up and coming. They'll be the future, and there's a lot of talented guys, but I challenge myself to be better than those guys year in and year out not just to be able to prove something to myself and my team, but also to prove something to others that 'Hey, maybe we made a bad decision.'"
Burris said Wednesday he takes those teams moving on from him personally.
"It is very personal to me," Burris said. "So many people always say you can let it go, let it go. But I think that's what motivates some of the best athletes ever. ...You have to play with a chip on your shoulder. When people say certain things that in your heart matter to you as an athlete. When they say certain things to doubt you."
He said being given up on helps to inspire him.
"The bottom line is what motivates you every day," he said. "And for me the fact I was sent packing after I helped turn organizations around and doing my job both on and off the field, being an ambassador not only for the community but for the team and also for the league — just to be sent packing the way that it occurred."
Burris was particularly annoyed about the way he was released by Hamilton coach and general manager Kent Austin, as he found out through the media around the same time Austin called him. That made last week's East Final win over the Tiger-Cats particularly sweet.
"It's little things like that that I hold on to," Burris said. "Of course, when I'm training, it gets me to an emotional point sometimes. I'm not saying I want revenge but to be able to go out and achieve what we did was the easiest way to get revenge. And I know that cuts deep."
Burris went on to further slam Austin in comparison to his new offensive coordinator, Jason Maas.
"I think the difference between Jason and Kent was Jason and I have a level of respect for each other," he said. "Jason and I played against each other, and Jason is a guy who very recently played the position. And we worked together because we both wanted to see the other achieve success. And the Kent system is, I wasn't Kent's guy, I was [former Hamilton coach] George Cortez's guy. But he helped me off to a good start, we got things going in the right direction, but Jason is all about us building it together. And he said 'Within this offence, you have experience as well, and that's going to help you overcome some things that the young guys may not be able to overcome,' and that allows him to be comfortable with giving me some of the reins on gameday. But the thing is with Jason, I knew where his heart was and I had a mutual respect with him, just like with any other quarterback in this league. No matter how well or not well we know each other, there's a mutual respect because we all go through the same thing. But in the end, I have a guy like Jason who's so adamant and passionate about this offence. And the great sitdown talk we had, definitely his passion was to see me become successful and to see himself and this team become sucessful, all of us together achieving sucess."
It's not just the slights that make Burris passionate, though. He said he has high standards for himself as well, and he plays better when he's angry.
"I do, and I'm angry this week, because I feel like I played like crap last week," he said. "I missed some throws against man-to-man coverage, I could have helped put us in the lead. I missed Brad on a corner route for a touchdown in the third quarter. I kind of shied away from making certain throws because of the wind, and that's not me. I won't shy away in this game. If I see it, I'll let it rip. So yeah, I play better when I'm pissed off. Edmonton's a very good team out there, so it's good for me to play pissed off."
Playing angry has helped Burris to a remarkable season, and the CFL's top individual honour. Now we'll see if he can use that fuel to lead his team to a Grey Cup and further prove the doubters wrong.
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