August 24, 2011

Stephen: Burris, Calvillo among all-time greats

Mark Stephen

They have become the faces of their respective franchises. 

When you think of the Montreal Alouettes, you automatically see visions of no. 13 rifling the ball downfield. 

When the Calgary Stampeders come to mind, images of Henry Burris dashing around the backfield prior to completing an unlikely pass usually follow.

Both Burris and Anthony Calvillo are not only faces of their franchises, but are two of the best quarterbacks to ever call signals in the Canadian Football League. 

Entering this weekend, Calvillo and Burris have combined to throw 647 touchdown passes and close to 110,000 yards. By season’s end, Calvillo should have the most passing yards in league history while Burris is on pace to move up to sixth overall.   

The pair have racked up four outstanding player awards (Calvillo three, Burris one), and have collected a combined five Grey Cup rings (Calvillo three, Burris two).

It’s clear that the duo has established the bar upon which newer quarterbacks dream of one day reaching.

So what makes the pair so consistently great? Speedy receiver/kick returner Larry Taylor has been in the huddle with both pivots and was able to pin-point some similarities.

“In the huddle, they both take charge and are both the leaders,” said Taylor.

“They are both well-respected and the guys listen to them. They have both won MVPs and Grey Cups which is why they’re alone at the top of different quarterback categories,” he added.

Taylor was also able to marvel at some of Calvillo’s lesser-known qualities.

“Henry can hurt you more on his legs, but AC can hurt you with his legs too. He doesn’t run much but when he does, he sneaks up on you and hits you for a big one in a key moment, “said Taylor following a recent Calgary practice.

“Defences forget about him with all those big explosive receivers they have over (in Montreal).”

While Taylor has been fortunate enough to receive passes and take handoffs from Burris and Calvillo, his teammate, veteran defensive lineman Devone Claybrooks, has spent much of his five CFL seasons chasing after both pivots.

He has great respect for both.

“They are both great leaders on the field and you can just tell they are both great men as well,” boomed the garrulous Claybrooks.

“At the same time they both know how to win and that’s why they are both very successful.”

Claybrooks took a look at the pair from another angle.

“They aren’t as vocal or have as big a mouth as myself,” laughed Claybrooks. “But when they need to, they can get their point across. When the point needs to be stressed, they make it.”

While the quarterbacks will be the featured performers, there are plenty of other stories that will make Saturday’s game a must watch. Most obviously is the fact both clubs are among the league’s elite and have been since Marc Trestman and John Hufnagel arrived on the sidelines. 

The Als and Stamps have split their six meetings over the last three seasons, with each team winning a Grey Cup on each other’s turf in the process. This season, they share identical 5-2 records and are at the top of many of the league’s offensive categories.

Given how both teams are able to boast such incredibly strong offensive units, Saturday night’s matchup has the potential of being a shootout.

Hufnagel, however, is downplaying the severity of the two rivals clashing.

“It’s an important game, but it’s not going to ruin our season if we don’t get the job done,” he said.

“But I fully expect our players to prepare to possibly get the job done,” he added.