Jaime Stein is the Canadian Football League's Manager of Digital Media and the former play-by-play voice of the Toronto Argonauts. Follow Jaime on Twitter @jaimestein.
You never really know someone until you spend a couple of days stuck with them in close quarters – in my case this was a car doing the rounds in New Brunswick from Moncton to Fredericton to Saint John and the protagonist was Henry Burris.
Burris – along with Tiger-Cat QB Kevin Glenn – was part of the 2011 Scotiabank Touchdown Atlantic kickoff tour back in April that visited New Brunswick over a couple of days and allowed me to see a side of him that the entire CFL community must appreciate.
This isn’t a story of Good Hank vs. Bad Hank – the alter egos created by his former teammate Rahim Abdullah. This is a story of Real Hank – the polite, confident and generous leader of the Calgary Stampeders.
I can understand why some people don’t like Burris – it likely stems from envy because he always appears to be having a good time. Exhibit 1: The broad smile he wears on his face most days. And when things don’t go right for Burris he gets frustrated. We all do. In his case, it is because of his passion – he truly cares. It’s hard to fault someone for caring too much. Yet we do it anyway.
But let’s talk about Henry the person.
He is authentic. The moment he greets someone he slips into his southern drawl and calls them sir or ma’am.
A room instantly gravitates in his direction upon entrance, which leads us to Exhibit 2: At multiple radio stations we visited on-air talent and staff members were eager to shake his hand, pose for a photo and request an autograph. One woman in Moncton even took the day off of work to come down to the station and meet with her CFL hero.
From greeting ordinary folk to dignitaries, nothing changes in the ‘Life of Hank’.
Enter New Brunswick Premier David Alward who informs Burris that he would, “look better in green.” Henry flashes his trademark smile and makes fun of the fact that he wears red and the premier represents a party in blue. A similar exchange would take place at the provincial legislature the next day.
As the feature event comes to a close inside the Delta Beausejours hotel in Moncton – a packed house press conference – Burris begins to mingle with a group of minor football players. One player asks for a quick peek at the black cowboy hat perched atop Burris’s head.
Instead, Burris offers the hat to the young boy and allows him to keep it.
While handing gloves or other apparel to a fan is always a nice gesture, there is something significant about this particular hat – it was the hat Burris wore at the 2008 Grey Cup in Montreal when he and the Stampeders took home the league’s top prize.
Grey Cup Champion. Most Outstanding Player. Man of the People.
Another thing you may not know about Burris is that he is a budding sommelier. While he can dissect a defence with relative ease, the same can be said for his ability to distinguish the merits of pairing a B.C. Syrah with dinner at a fine Fredericton establishment.
And speaking of food, Burris packs in about 6,000 calories a day to keep up with the rigorous demands of his off-season training.
We hop back into the car and make our way to a local football practice. By now, Burris is in full control of our navigation as he sits shotgun – a misstep by another member of our crew using the provided navigation system in an attempt to find a Moncton radio station sent Burris scurrying into action to direct us with the GPS on his BlackBerry.
At the Capital Area Minor Football Association practice on a field located just outside of Fredericton Burris is mobbed by local fans. He greets some with a hug, others with a “how y’all doin’?” as he truly exemplifies the ‘The is OUR League’ video when it says, "Where you can reach out and love a running back. And they love you too."
He possess for photos and has no issue taking his Grey Cup ring off to share with fans including Sergeant Butler (2RCR) who spent time serving in Afghanistan.
Burris has no trouble changing conversation from football to military to music – which he controlled for a majority of the ride in the vehicle. In fact, Hank’s specialty was a house-trance blend which he claimed got him fired up pre-game. Not necessarily the right soundtrack for a road trip through the tree-lined highways of Canada’s east coast, but hey, he was sitting shotgun. And deservedly so.
Now a trip with a pair of quarterbacks would not be complete without tossing a few passes – and Burris and Glenn didn’t disappoint as they threw a pair of official CFL footballs to a waiting group of fans outside of Moncton City Hall during the lunch hour. An ‘Only in the CFL moment’ for sure and another example of why players like Henry Burris truly make this OUR league.
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