REGINA—With the 2013 Grey Cup being held in Saskatchewan (live chat here), featuring the hometown Roughriders, and being even dubbed "The Celebration In Rider Nation," there was plenty of potential for opposing players to criticize any perceived favouritism the league showed towards the Riders. That remained a rather muted topic for most of the week, though, but it did erupt just before the Grey Cup kicked off. On a pre-game interview with TSN's Matt Dunigan that aired less than an hour before kickoff time, Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris blasted the league's handling of Thursday night's awards show, which he said felt like a coronation of the Riders.
"We felt so disrespected," Burris said. "I've never been so embarrassed in my life."
Burris said that sentiment was widespread amongst the Tiger-Cats after the show.
"We got onto that bus and nobody was saying anything," he said. "We were all so fired up to play this game right after that."
He said he felt the event should have been far more neutral.
"It's the Grey Cup, it's two teams here, we're each representing our sides," Burris said. "That was a celebration of one team."
Accusations of league-wide bias towards the economic and TV powerhouse Saskatchewan Roughriders from opposing players are nothing new. In fact, they caused a massive controversy at the 2010 Grey Cup in Edmonton when Alouettes' players Matthieu Proulx and Etienne Boulay complained about receiving an older hotel than the Riders. However, whether Burris has much of a point here is really in the eye of the beholder; the awards ceremony itself was obviously going to have a bit of a green tinge in Regina, with hosts and presenters mentioning Rider Nation, so the only debate is if it went over the line, and that's obviously subjective. It's not like the awards themselves were excessively pro-Saskatchewan: in fact, bitter rivals Calgary led the night with three wins, and the only Rider recognized was lineman Brendan Labatte. (The CFL did present Calgary kicker Rene Paredes with a plaque listing him as a Roughrider, but it's hardly like the league made that mistake on purpose.) Sure, it's possible for Burris to complain about Hamilton running back C.J. Gable (the only Ticat nominated) losing outstanding rookie to Stampeders' centre Brett Jones, but Jones had an excellent case for that award. Moreover, that's something to complain about to the award voters, not the league.
The real question isn't how the ceremony played out, but what it will inspire Burris and his teammates to do in Sunday's game. It could conceivably provide even more motivation, as they're already seen as underdogs (at least by the betting houses), and maybe it will lead them to go out, have incredible games and stick it to the Riders' fans. However, it could also potentially get them too fired up, and that may be a concern for Burris in particular. While he had an excellent year in general, throwing for a league-high 4,925 yards with a 65.8 per cent completion rate and 24 touchdowns, the "Bad Hank" of questionable decision fame also showed up often, and he threw 19 interceptions on the year. If Burris can channel that anger into a composed, efficient performance, he and the Tiger-Cats could get some revenge Sunday, but if he gets too fired up and starts to force things, he might play right into the Riders' hands.