For one of the few times in his life, Henry Burris was left speechless.
The 18-year veteran quarterback headlines the Canadian Football Hall of Fame’s 2020 class that was unveiled Thursday. Burris, 45, got the nod in his first year of eligibility, becoming just the 21st player ever to do so but second in as many years after Calgary running back Jon Cornish in 2019.
Joining Burris in the player category are offensive linemen Clyde Brock and Freddie Childress and quarterback Greg Vavra. John Hufnagel, the Calgary Stampeders president/GM, and Larry Uteck (posthumously), the former head coach/athletic director at Saint Mary’s University, were both named as builders.
Burris’s family — wife Nicole and sons Armand and Barron — had known of his induction since February but managed to keep quiet about it until about two and a half weeks ago when the Hall of Fame informed Burris. Even then, the Burris clan was very nonchalant in asking the former quarterback to take in what he thought was a run-of-the-mill video.
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Instead, Burris watched Hall of Famer Damon Allen (2012) outline his pro football journey to Canada, which drew a rather bewildered look from Burris. Then Allen detailed Burris’s stellar CFL career before Mark DeNobile, the Hall of Fame’s executive director, delivered the big news.
And the player, affectionately dubbed Smilin’ Hank because of his outgoing personality, was lost for words as tears streamed down his face.
“Yeah, they got me good,” Burris said with a chuckle. “What’s funny is whenever I’ve told the boys to keep anything quiet, they’ve always gone back to their mother and yet they didn’t say a peep about this.
“I was lost for words just because to hear it shows you that people appreciated the things you did throughout your career. This is the way for the league and all the organizations and the fans saying, ‘Thank you,’ and for me I’m humbled by it … there’s so many guys in there (Hall of Fame) who I looked up to and now to be able to join them is a dream come true.”
The six-foot-one, 190-pound Burris, a native of Spiro, Okla., played 20 pro seasons, 18 in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders (1997-99, 2005-11), Saskatchewan Roughriders (2000, 2003-04), Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2012-13) and Ottawa Redblacks (2014-16). Burris also spent time with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers (2001) and Chicago Bears (2002).
Burris appeared in five Grey Cups, winning three (1998, ’08, ’16) and being named the MVP twice (2008, ’16). The CFL’s outstanding player on two occasions (2010, 2015), Burris amassed 63,639 passing yards and 373 TD passes — both third all-time.
Burris retired shortly after leading Ottawa to a thrilling 39-33 overtime Grey Cup upset win over Calgary. He threw for 461 yards and three TDs despite suffering a knee injury during warmups.
Burris said his Hall of Fame induction is as much a testament to his family’s resilience and perseverance as it is his on-field accomplishments.
“I had to take my wife all over Canada, drag my kids all over Canada and force them to make new friends just for dad to be able to play this game called football,” said Burris, whose family still calls Ottawa home. “And for them to understand and see just the emotions that ran through me … it just shows how big that moment is, just kind of when your whole life flashes before you.”
Burris and the other inductees will have to wait for their day in the sun due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 class will be honoured alongside the 2021 inductees next August.