Tuesday, July 23, 2024

The return of ‘Smiling Hank’: Quarterback hero Henry Burris marks Redblacks’ 10th anniversary

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Henry Burris says it “feels like home” returning to the Redblacks field at TD Place.

Burris was honoured at the pre-game ceremony ahead of the Redblacks season opener Thursday night. It is part of the 10-year anniversary of the franchise.

“Being back here now, it’s like I blink, I’m waking up from a nap and all sudden we’re here,” says Burris.

Burris says he can tell there have been physical changes to the stadium, “But the one thing that never changes is the aura. You feel it when you walk into this building. To me, it’s one of the most special projects that I’ve ever been a part of and ever witnessed.”

He says, “And I’ve seen a lot of football. And to me, you can’t find a better confine than in TD Place.”

The quarterback helped build the franchise back in 2014, and led them to the Grey Cup twice—winning in 2016.

Burris says he has been in contact with many of the Redblacks players and staff, both past and present. “We have one big family and that still continues on. And when you have family and we’re there for a much bigger purpose than just us and just doing a job.”

There are many moments fans will remember thanks to “Smiling Hank” — as he was known during his playing years — including a 93-yard completion to Greg Ellingson to win the East Final in 2015.

Of course, Redblacks fans will always remember Burris’ injuries in the 2016 season, and then leading the team to victory, ending a 40-year drought in the capital.

Burris retired in 2017 and is now part of the CFL Hall of Fame.

Adrian Sciarra is President of Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) and credits the “Henry Burris Effect” for the franchise’s early success.

“Henry and I moved to Ottawa right around the same time with the start of the Redblacks. And there’s always a process to launching an expansion team and to becoming relevant and competitive in the league, thanks to Henry and the staff and players that he came with, that happened really quickly and reestablished football in Ottawa.”

Sciarra says, “It takes people, it takes the right people, ultra-competitive and outstanding of what they do. And Henry embodied that.”

The team is now in a new rebuild, Sciarra says. “We’ve got to win football games and fill the stadium again like we were in those early years. But it showed that Ottawa is a football town. Ottawa loves its football teams.”

Burris, his wife Nicole and their two sons Armand and Baron, now live in the United States, but say Ottawa holds a special place in their hearts.

Burris is now a coach with Florida A&M.

He credits his passion for Ottawa to the loyal fan base. “This won’t be possible without them,” he says. “We want to see smiles on the fans’ faces.”

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