A surgeon's scalpel has removed the smile from Henry Burris's face. The Stampeders starting quarterback is expected to miss most of the team's seven remaining regular-season games after undergoing surgery last night to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb.
Burris met late yesterday with a specialist who determined surgery was necessary and the pivot immediately went under the knife.
Smilin' Hank was little more than an interested spectator at yesterday's Stampeders practice, a prelude to Jason Gesser's first CFL start Saturday in Hamilton.
Burris didn't take any snaps and had been wearing a plastic splint on his non-throwing hand since injuring the digit in Friday's 16-11 win in Edmonton.
The 5-6 Stampeders are tied for third place in the CFL West and are entering a crucial portion of the schedule.
"You never want to come this far with your group of guys and then basically have to fold up your tent, you want to stay out there and continue to play but that's a hard part about the game we play," Burris said after practice.
"You want to allow these things to heal properly but with an injury like this it can be serious and at this time it's an important part of the year for us."
Burris, the team's high-profile free agent acquisition in the off-season, injured the thumb early in the second quarter while preventing a fall on the slippery Commonwealth Stadium turf. Although he sat out four offensive plays, giving way to Gesser, he returned for the remainder of the contest. Gesser, who has never started a CFL game, took the vast majority of reps yesterday while third-stringer Danny Wimprine also saw extra work and will take over the backup role.
"I have to be mentally prepared to be our starting quarterback this week," said Gesser, 27, a Washington State product who spent the last couple of seasons on the practice roster of the NFL's Tennessee Titans.
"I usually don't get a lot of reps with the No. 1 receivers, so it's just a matter of talking with them and getting on the same page with a couple of guys and making sure we understand each other and what we expect each other to do."
Gesser completed all three of his passes for 45 yards in his brief appearance against the Eskimos, orchestrating the Stamps' only TD drive of the game. It was a much stronger showing than a three-for-six outing for
40 yards in a mop-up role against Winnipeg in early August, his first CFL appearance.
"Any time you get in a game and be productive, that helps your confidence out tremendously," Gesser said.
"You can always say you can do it on the practice field but can you do it on the game field? It's a whole different feel from practice to games. That's what you have to do, so that brief appearance will help me out."
Head coach Tom Higgins likes to think Gesser's cameo appearance at Commonwealth will do more for the confidence of rest of the offence than it will in affecting Gesser's mental approach.
"It makes everybody else feel a lot more comfortable," Higgins said. "Everybody else sees what we see. He's a guy that, when come game time, can line up and perform and execute. We have always felt that way."
Higgins said Gesser's emergence reminds him of Ricky Ray, who was brilliant after being thrown into Edmonton's starting role in 2002. The Stamps will learn plenty about Gesser's potential Saturday.