Friendly foes

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:22 AM ET

Seven seasons ago, Henry Burris and Dave Dickenson were sharing the same sideline and a football dream.

While both quarterbacks were holding clipboards backing up Stampeders starter Jeff Garcia, the two friends were planning to one day earn starting roles, maybe even in the NFL.

Although they enjoyed a brief taste of football life south of the border, only Garcia hit the big time and stayed after piloting the Stampeders to the 1998 Grey Cup title.

Tomorrow night Burris, 30, and Dickenson, 32, will face each other as the first-place Lions (4-0) host the Stampeders (2-2) at B.C. Place in Vancouver.

"Dave and I always had a great relationship as just two young guys waiting for our chance behind Jeff," recalls Burris, who also spent time on the Stamps depth chart in '99 as Dickenson led the team to a Grey Cup berth.

"We knew it was Jeff's show in '98 and we just did our best so that when our time came we were ready to go. Again, we were both working to be starters here but our dream was to be in the NFL. That worked out great for Jeff but not Dave and I.

"We supported each other well, worked out together every off-season here in Calgary and were there for each other, yet still competing. That's how it's always going to be between us."

In '99 with Garcia gone, Burris finally earned his shot after Dickenson suffered a shoulder injury. Highlighted by a comeback win over Edmonton and a spectacular 19-of-28 night in beating Montreal, Burris proved his worth but was eventually lost for the season with a torn ACL. Dickenson, meanwhile, returned to lead the team to the Grey Cup game and his star has been rising ever since, with an MVP season in 2000 and an NFL contract shortly thereafter.

That season Burris also jumped to Saskatchewan as a free agent while Dickenson's Stamps finished first in the West only to lose the division final.

With Burris back in Calgary this year, Dickenson has been his strongest supporter. The regular phone calls have been specially handy in light of the free agent QB's shaky start prior to last week's impressive win over Saskatchewan, said Burris.

"He's just smooth and to me that's the No. 1 asset of a quarterback and I think that's what's helped me improve my game, especially last week," Burris says. "I didn't rush things as much and everything was much smoother. Just let the game come to me.

"As each game goes on, I'll get better and that's something that I haven't hidden from anybody. I'll get better each game. Just talking to Dave throughout this whole deal, he said the same thing to me: 'Just be patient and it will all come through.'

"His first year in this same offence he also struggled in the first few games but once it all came together, he had an MVP-type season.

"He feels that we have a great coach here. A great offensive co-ordinator here and he said things would be a little sketchy early on because we've got so much new personnel and a different style of offence. That feels good because he's a guy who's been there and done that."

The two quarterbacks faced off in last year's West final with Dickenson's Lions prevailing over Burris's Roughies 27-25 in overtime. Burris completed 28 of 39 passes that night for 416 yards and three TDs, a performance that was a key reason the Stampeders chased Burris once he became a free agent.

Now Burris remains confident he's as talented as Dickenson and will prove it once he's had time to gel with his new teammates in Calgary.

"I've always believed in my abilities over Dave," Burris says.

"I believe he can get the job done but I believe I can, too. He's shown what he can do with his experience and even though I haven't started as many games as him, I still believe I can go out and do the things it takes."


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