Stamps in good hands

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

Minutes after one of the most gut-twisting playoff implosions in franchise history, Henry Burris circled the Calgary Stampeders locker-room in shock.

While dealing internally with the crushing blow of piloting a team that handed Edmonton a win it never deserved, the classy QB took the time to shake every player's hand he could.

Some needed hugs.

"That's contagious," said Stampeders head coach Tom Higgins, when asked about Burris' tremendous poise during and after the 33-26 West semifinal loss.

"That's why you have to be optimistic if he can continue to grow and become a first-rate, elite quarterback in this league, which he's right on the verge of being, we have a great chance at excelling."

In a season where so many things came together for a franchise on the ropes, perhaps it was the maturation and leadership of their quarterback that best exemplifies how far the team has come.

With Henry Burris as their leader, the Calgary Stampeders are clearly in good hands.

"That was nice," said Sheldon Napastuk of the way Burris carried himself and boosted teammates after the game.

"It was nice to see the group held together. We're family. Everybody here is under contract and we'll see pretty much the same group here next year."

Having made tremendous strides this summer to ensure the nucleus will stay the same the next few years, president/part-owner Ted Hellard's long-term plan is shaping up nicely.

GM Jim Barker agrees.

"As an organization, it's not about winning one championship," said Barker, who oversaw the turnaround from 4-14 to 11-7.

"We're on a journey and we want to contend for championships year after year. This year just got us started down that path."

Growing rapidly into one of the most talented and complete teams in the CFL this year, the players spoke yesterday of using Sunday's choke-job as a motivator. Like the Flames, Burris suggested, sometimes you have to lose to win down the road.

"Sometimes you have to be humbled to have success," said Burris, blessed with a supporting cast on offence that has very few weaknesses, especially with the emergence of locker-room favourite Tony Stallings as a backup rusher.

"To me, this will be a key ingredient to our future. Now we know what we have."

What they have is an iron-clad defence, as good a running game as the league has, clutch playmaking receivers, a competent offensive line and a quarterback that grew into one of the CFL's most dangerous.

Wrap it all together with a stable front office and an all-star coaching staff and it's easy to see why some players were reduced to tears over an opportunity lost.

One such player was Joffrey Reynolds, who appreciated Burris' consoling words after his two fumbles proved costly.

"I was down on myself because I consider myself a big part of the offence but a lot of guys were upbeat and not pointing any fingers," said the budding superstar.

"The team really stuck together and I think that's something to build on for next year."

From the tank to Hank, they're in good hands indeed.


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