55 Yard Line - CFL


The 2010 Gibson's Finest CFL Player Awards took place Thursday night in Edmonton, and I was on the scene to cover them. Here's a breakdown of all the award winners and my thoughts on each selection.

Most Outstanding Player: Henry Burris, QB, Calgary

Well, it looks like the "Eastern media" weren't successful in stopping Burris from claiming the Most Outstanding Player award now. I don't think he was necessarily the right selection, though; yes, Burris had a great year (despite some poor choices in attire at times), throwing for 4,945 yards and a league-leading 38 touchdowns, but he wasn't as efficient as East representative Anthony Calvillo, who completed a higher percentage of his passes (67.2 to 66.2 per cent), had almost as many passing yards, and threw 32 touchdowns against only seven. This was a reasonably close vote, though, with Burris taking 32 of the 60 votes (and Calvillo presumably receiving the other 28), and that seems fair; both quarterbacks had great seasons and you can make a case for either. I just think Calvillo's efficiency makes him more consistent and more dependable.

After walking out to a techno remix of The Scorpions' "Rock You Like A Hurricane", Burris delivered the line of the night on stage, talking about his respect for Calvillo.

"He's the Michael Jordan of this game now, and I've always felt like Clyde Drexler."

Burris said selecting either him or Calvillo would have been fair.

"It could have went either way," he said. "Anthony's a great quarterback and he's led his team to the Promised Land one more time, something we couldn't achieve, but we had a great season too."

He went on to thank both Montreal and Saskatchewan players and complement them on their season, which was a classy touch. He served notice that Calgary will be back, though.

"In 2011, we'll be a much better team than we were this year."

Speaking to the media afterwards, Burris said he was still having a tough time believing it.

"It's a surreal feeling," he said. "Once they called my name, it took about four or five seconds for it to sink in," he said.

He also thanked many of the great quarterbacks who had gone before him, such as Damon Allen, Matt Dunigan and Tracy Ham around the league and Jeff Garcia and Dave Dickenson in Calgary.

Burris said winning this award is key for him, considering that he's aging.

"I'm 35 now, so every year counts for me and it means that much more," he said. "It was hard to sleep the last couple of nights, because this was my Grey Cup this weekend."

Most Outstanding Canadian: Andy Fantuz, slotback, Saskatchewan

This was a well-deserved selection, and one that wasn't really in doubt. Fantuz not only was the league's top Canadian receiver this year, he finished atop the receiving charts with 1,380 yards, and became the first Canadian to lead the league in that category since Dave Sapunjis did it in 1995. East Division nominee Dave Stala also had a great season for Hamilton, but his numbers weren't quite up there with the ones Fantuz put up.

Fantuz said Stala blazed a trail for he and other Canadian receivers to follow.

"I have to congratulate Dave Stala on his season and his career," Fantuz said. "I'm a big fan of his."

Fantuz said winning the award is a tremendous achievement for him.

"It's a huge honour," he said.

He attributed his success to his good health this year.

"Just being able to stay on the field is something," he said.

Fantuz said he's hopeful he can motivate not only young Canadian players, but also young people who want to succeed in other realms of life.

"I have a lot of fan mail and people that talk to me to tell me I inspire them," he said. "That's really what it's all about. If even one kid is touched by this and works hard to get to wherever he or she needs to get to, that makes it all worth it."

Saskatchewan's fans also received the Commissioner's Award this season, and Fantuz said that was more than fitting.

"They support us in every way," he said. "It makes it a lot of fun to play for the Riders."

Most Outstanding Defensive Player - Markeith Knowlton, linebacker, Hamilton

I like this selection a lot. Knowlton had an outstanding season for the Tiger-Cats and found a way to stand out in one of the most talented linebacking corps in the league. He did everything on the field, recording 71 tackles, three interceptions, three sacks, two blocked punts and a league-high six fumble recoveries. He even found time to cut his teammates' hair.

"It's a team game, it's a team sport. Everything I've done depends on my teammates."

"This is something I can tell my kids and my grandkids."

Most Outstanding Lineman: Ben Archibald, tackle, Calgary

Archibald is a great choice in my mind, as I picked him as my outstanding lineman selection way back in October. He anchored the left side of Calgary's line all year, paving the way for their top-ranked rushing tandem of Joffrey Reynolds and Jon Cornish and providing blind-side protection for Burris to put up passing yards.

Archibald said the award is important from a couple of different standpoints.

"This means a lot to me on an individual level, but also to have one of these to represent our team is a great honour," he said.

He gave much of the credit to his wife, who does the lion's share of raising his three-year-old triplets during the football season.

"She's got her hands full, but she supports me and lets me do this."

Most Outstanding Special Teams Player: Chad Owens, returner, Toronto

There wasn't really any question about this one. Owens had a phenomenal season on special teams for Toronto, picking up 2,701 combined return yards. That was nearly 1,000 ahead of his nearest competitor, Hamilton's Marcus Thigpen. Owens was unanimously chosen for this one, and deservingly so.

"I'm just really honoured to be here," Owens said. "Just a year ago, I wasn't playing."

He attributed his success to perseverance.

"It's been a lot of hard work, but now I'm in the right place," Owens said.

Owens also credited his teammates, particularly his blockers and special teams coordinator Mike O'Shea.

"I was able to come out with a great group of guys and really battle every week," he said. "We were a special unit headed by a special coach. We weren't even afraid to fake a safety in our own end zone. To me that was the best play ever."

Owens is just the latest in a long line of great Argonauts' returners, including Rocket Ismail and current team vice-chair Pinball Clemons. He's appreciative of that history.

"I mentioned Pinball Clemons out there, and to be even close to what he's done is amazing," Owens said. "I'm just trying to follow in his footsteps."

Owens was born and raised in Hawaii and played at the University of Hawaii with Most Outstanding Rookie winner Solomon Elimimian. He said he's hopeful his success will inspire other Hawaiian football players. He said it's his continued enthusiasm for the game that's got him this far.

"I enjoyed myself, and that's what made me the player that I was."

Most Outstanding Rookie: Solomon Elimimian, linebacker, B.C.

Elimimian was a solid choice for this award. He was a notable omission from the divisional all-stars, but had a tremendous season, putting up 77 tackles, five sacks and a fumble recovery. He made a huge impact for the Lions and was a big part of turning their season around.

Few would have expected Elimimian to be standing here at the start of this season, and notably, he wouldn't even have expected that.

"The CFL was probably my last option. I didn’t really know that much about it. I really didn’t want to go up to Canada. I was the defensive player of the year in the (Western Athletic) conference, I felt I was going to play in the NFL," Elimimian said. "But God had different plans for me, and everything worked out."

Tom Pate Memorial Award: Wes Lysack, safety, Calgary

Lysack received this year's edition of the Tom Pate Award, which is annually given to a CFL player with outstanding sportsmanship who's made a difference to his team and in his community. With that in mind, it was appropriate that Lysack brought his eight-year-old son Wes Jr. on stage with him to pick up the hardware and answer questions.

Lysack said helping his community isn't about getting recognition, but the award still means a lot to him given the illustrious names who have picked it up over the years.

"It's an honour, the whole thing, to be a part of," he said. "We don't necessarily seek out recognition for anything any of us do off the field, but being named in the same category as George Reed and John Helton and Danny McManus is a great honour."

He said his life of service has been motivated by his parents' influence.

"They've always done everything they could for everyone around them."

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