O’Leary: Predicting which hats future hall of famers might wear
Bennett asked Burris if this were like baseball, where inductees wear a hat of the team that they’re most attached to through their careers, which of the four CFL teams that he played for would he wear. Hank didn’t hesitate.
“It’d be Ottawa,” he said.
“I think what we did here was extra special. I think it’s something that you haven’t seen occur too many times in the history of sports. The fact that it took three short years to hoist a championship trophy and do it in the fashion that we did it in, I think that the impact of what we were able to accomplish here, that impact will be felt for generations here in Ottawa.
“The story of the second-and-25 to Greg Ellingson and the story of E-Jack when he bobbled our hearts into the end zone in the Grey Cup in overtime, those are stories that will be told for centuries to come.”
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Normally, we wouldn’t associate a veteran QB with the final stop of his career, but Burris’ is so picture perfect that it becomes the go-to thought when you think of him (at least it does for me). Ottawa makes sense for him. It’s where he solidified his legacy and earned what he’s told me in the past was the proudest of all of the great accomplishments in his career.
The hat question got me thinking about other surefire hall of famers and what they might choose, if that were an option in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Ricky Ray spent the first nine years of his career in Edmonton and the last seven in Toronto. He won two Grey Cups in each stop and when he was healthy he was consistently dominant each time he was on the field. Similar to Burris, he had a spectacular Grey Cup win (in Ottawa, oddly enough) in 2017 against Calgary, making him the first QB in CFL history to win four championships as a starter.
Having lived in Edmonton through the Ray years, I know the city’s attachment to him and what hat they’d want to see him choose. Ray was heartbroken when he was traded to Edmonton after the 2011 season, but settled into his new settings and genuinely liked his time with the Argos and in the city of Toronto.
Since he spent more time in Edmonton — and put up 40,529 of his 53,105 career yards there — I’d put a green and gold hat on him.
A few hours south of Edmonton a couple of former Calgary Stampeders players and teammates of Burris’ would have a similar decision to make. Charleston Hughes established himself as an elite defensive end through 10 years with the Stamps, leading the league in sacks three times. In the winter of 2018, he was traded from the Stamps to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, via a layover in Hamilton that saw him as a Ticat for just a few hours.
In Saskatchewan, you could argue that Hughes has found another gear. Hughes’ age — he was 34 when the Stamps dealt him — had to play a factor in moving him. As an elder statesman in the CFL, Hughes simply went to Saskatchewan and led the league in sacks in consecutive years, with 15 in 2018 and 16 in 2019. Now 36, he’s five sacks away from cracking the top-five on the all-time sacks leaders list. If he made gains on that list as a Rider, or helped bring a Grey Cup to Regina, would that be enough to sway Hughes to think of himself in green more than red when he looked back on his career?
Nik Lewis spent 11 of his 14 CFL years with the Stamps, finishing out his HOF-bound career in Montreal with the Alouettes. While with the Als, Lewis was often the silver lining to some cloudy losing seasons. He became the CFL’s all-time receptions leader on Aug. 24, 2017, passing Geroy Simon. He retired as the fifth all-time leading receiver in league history, with 13,778 yards.
Despite being named an East all-star in 2016, Lewis put the bulk of his HOF-worthy career together in Calgary. He was the CFL rookie of the year in 2004, was a three-time CFL all-star in Calgary and of course won Grey Cups with the Stamps in 2008 and 2014. Had the Als been a successful team in his time in Montreal and won a Grey Cup, you could think there might be an argument for which hat Lewis would wear, but that wasn’t the case at that point in the Als’ history. In the eyes of probably everyone except the most die-hard of Alouettes fans, Lewis will be remembered as a Stampeder.