December 7, 2022

Burnham on CFL career: ‘It’s been an amazing ride’

Dave Chidley/

Bryan Burnham got a taste of life after football when his three-year-old stuck something up her nose the night before he officially announced he was retiring from the CFL.

“I was fishing that out last night,” said the veteran BC Lions receiver, one of the league’s best players on the field who always was a class act off. “It comes with its own challenges.

“It’s bananas, madness. But it’s something, when I lay down at the end of the day, I’m happy.”

Announcing he was leaving the game he loved, and the friends he loved to play it with, was bittersweet for the 32-year-old Burnham, but it was a decision he felt comfortable making.

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“I’m proud of the fact that I can walk away from this game on my own terms,” he said. “There are many people who cannot and I’m just so fortunate.

“Not everybody’s fortunate enough to be able to play for eight seasons and for one team. A lot of hard work went into it and a lot of sacrifice. That sacrifice wasn’t just made by me but it was made by my wife as well. We are at a point now where I’m not willing to make that sacrifice anymore. It’s time to move on. “

The six-foot-two, 205-pound Burnham wasn’t the biggest receiver on the field or the fastest. He always managed to be where the ball was thrown, then used his strength and concentration to make highlight-reel catches look easy.

“I have coached many great players in my career and Bryan ranks up there with the best,” said Rick Campbell, BC’s co-general manager and head coach. “It was an honour to work with him the past two seasons.

“Bryan’s commitment and approach to getting better each and every day was something that he passed onto many of his teammates and the young players who broke in after him.”

Burnham joined the Lions in 2014 after being discovered at a free-agent camp in Seattle. Over the next eight seasons he would make at least one reception in all 105 regular-season games he played.

Burnham’s 476 catches for 7,212 yards leaves him fourth on the Lions’ all-time list. His 42 touchdowns is seventh. He also caught touchdowns from seven different BC quarterbacks. Burnham added another six catches for 242 yards and two touchdowns in six playoff games.

During his career Burnham went over 1,000 yards four consecutive times. He was a CFL All-Star four times, a CFL West All-Star five times and the Lions’ nominee for the 2019 team CFL Most Outstanding Player.

Of all his accomplishments, the one thing Burnham didn’t do was win a Grey Cup.

“It’s disappointing, definitely something that I will think about, especially with  how close we came this season,” he said. “It still stings a little bit but it’s not something I’m going to lose sleep over.”

Burnham, who missed just three games in his previous five season seasons, was limited to nine this year due to injuries. He spent a week in hospital recovering from fractured ribs and a collapsed lung then missed five games with a broken wrist, but still finished the year with 41 catches for 596 yards and four touchdowns.

Any pain he experienced from the injuries didn’t match the hurt he felt leaving his wife Aubrey and the three children they foster care behind at home in Tulsa.

“That was my biggest pain this year, walking out the door in May for training camp,”  Burnham said. “I told myself I didn’t want to feel that pain anymore.”


Burnham came into the season knowing it was going to be his last. He took time to soak up the atmosphere in each stadium he visited, especially McMahon in Calgary.

“We had so many battles in that stadium,” he said. “So many tough losses and some amazing wins this season. That’s one of the places where I took my time coming off the field and just took it all in.”

When the Lions lost 28-20 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Western Final Burnham spent time by himself sitting in the end zone at IG Field.

“As much as it hurt to lose that game, being so close to the Grey Cup, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to my career,” he said. “It was real Canadian football.

“It was cold, it was snowing, it was loud. Man, I enjoyed it. I just wanted to sit there at the end and really take it all in one last time.”

Burnham credited former Lions slotback Courtney Taylor for helping him as a rookie.

“From day one he took me under his wing and taught be about the Canadian game,” he said.

Burnham also learned about leadership and professionalism from players like Geroy Simon, Shawn Gore and Emmanuel Arceneaux. He heaped special praise on former quarterback Travis Lulay.

“The guy was an amazing leader,” Burnham said. “To excel at this level, seeing him in the locker room, and then also see him interacting with his family outside of football was just awesome to experience.

“I learned a lot from Travis.”

The 2021 season was difficult for Burnham. On the field, the Lions struggled to a 5-9 record and missed the playoffs for the third time in four years. Away from the game, Burnham’s wife suffered a ectopic pregnancy before training camp, then a miscarriage later in the season.

“It really took a toll on me mentally, emotionally,” he said.

Becoming foster parents for siblings aged two, three and five made Burnham re-evaluate his priorities.

“They make me happy,” he said. “I’m prepared to take that next step, to move on to the next chapter of my life and walk away on my own terms.

“It’s been an amazing ride. I’ve done more with my career than I could ever imagine. There was nothing else for me to accomplish. It’s just the right moment,  just the right time to hang them up.”

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