Slick passing is encouraging

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

For the first time in five years, it appears the Calgary Stampeders have finally found someone who can throw the ball downfield.

His name: Jeremaine Copeland.

On a night when a smattering of football diehards braved the most inclement summer weather in more than a decade of Stampeders football, it was the big-name free-agent receiver who stole the show on what was unofficially dubbed Henry Burris Night.

In a play designed expressly to show Calgarians an exciting new era of Stampeders football has arrived, Copeland took a 20-yard lateral from Burris on the first offensive play of the pre-season and hauled it 30 yards downfield for a stunning 74-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Nik Lewis.

Take a bow Tom Higgins, Steve Burrato, Bill Diedrick and the trio of players who will be in charge of spearheading a turnaround of the league's worst offence of 2004. Nice flair for the dramatic.

"We're always going to put a little razzle-dazzle in there," said Higgins.

In a meaningless outing in which all eyes were on Burris, it was a brilliant reminder there are many more forces at work here than just the man Higgins stole from Roy Shivers and 'Rider nation.

That said, everyone knows this is Burris' team and, if last night's game was any indication, he'll be just fine.

And as he goes, so will the Stamps.

With a week of rain preventing more than 10,000 fans from witnessing the preliminary unveiling of Calgary's new shiny red toy, a swarthy crowd of Roughriders fans showed up to see if their squad could catch the traitor they call Belinda, never mind behead him.

They couldn't. In fact, thanks to a determined o-line and Burris' quick release, they rarely came close.

Despite a driving rain, frigid temperatures and a field described as 'saturated' in the pre-game report, Burris displayed plenty of the zip fans remember from his first go-round here.

Given the circumstances, it's of little concern less than a third of his passes stuck to the hands of his targets.

Interestingly, by the end of his half of play, Burris finished well behind Marcus Crandell in the stats category, going 5-of-16 for 70 yards. Meanwhile, Crandell pieced together numbers rarely seen when he wore red, going a respectable 14-of-23 for 156 yards.

Burris gave himself a modest grade.

"A C-plus," said Burris, 30, who accrued most of his yards on a six-play, 55-yard scoring drive that included a 19-yard strike to Lewis and a 26-yard hookup with import hopeful Ken Yon Rambo.

"Hey, not all the factors are to your liking and you're playing with a new bunch of guys ... We did all right despite all that."

OK, it was an exhibition game. But those who braved the elements caught an understandably sloppy glimpse of a team obviously on the up and up.

Said Burris: "It doesn't matter to me if Cope steals the show -- I'm not a guy who wants the spotlight. I just want to win."

For a team that won four games last year, last night's effort was a good start.


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