Stamps' hopes Bur-ied

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

The Calgary Stampeders lost their quarterback, the game and even a coach Friday night.

In all likelihood, their season is now lost, too.

No wonder many of the players lost sleep as their season now likely rests on the shoulders of a 32-year-old backup quarterback who returned to the game on a whim six months ago.

"I stayed up until 4:30 a.m. thinking about what I have to do to get this team back to where it needs to be," said new team leader Akili Smith, who decided after a pickup basketball game to try rejuvenating a pro career he abandoned in 2005.

"I'm definitely ready to go. I've learned a lot from the sidelines, and now it's time to play well on the field."

With all due respect to a man who appears to be every bit as good an athlete as he is a person, the Stamps now have very little chance of ending their string of post-season misery with anyone other than Burris at the helm.

Unless Burris' MRI shows his freak left shoulder separation late in Friday's loss in Hamilton caused no additional damage, he's gone for the year. With him goes the club's chances of beating the BC. Lions or the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division semifinal. Heck, they'd be a longshot to beat the Montreal Alouettes or Toronto Argonauts should they end up crossing over to the East Division playoffs.

As well as Burris has thrown the ball the last two months, the Stamps' offence is built around his mobility. It keeps defences off-balance and sets up the pass. For proof, look no further than the Stamps' final drive Friday when Burris' feet did most of the damage. His brilliance throughout what would have been a game-winning drive was symbolic of just how confident and dominating he's been of late. However, an awkward landing on his left hand ended all hope of winning that night -- or in November.

Sure, Smith had a solid pair of pre-season outings.

But without the sort of experience and poise required to succeed at the quarterback position, there's little reason to believe he could be better than any of the other dozens of NFL rejects who've failed in the CFL.

"Probably not," said head coach Tom Higgins when asked if he thought Smith was ready.

"I don't know if he'll ever be ready. There's not a game goes by we're not explaining another Canadian league rule to Akili. There will be some hiccups along the way, but he's not afraid to take the heat because he's been in the battle before."

Yes he has, albeit that was five years ago with the Cincinnati Bengals. He was the third pick overall in 1999 but made just two starts after 2000.

Again, the intention is not to rip Smith but to point out just how monumentally out of line it would be to expect someone as green as him to lift an extremely average team to new heights.

As Burris went, this team went.

If he's done for the year, so are the Stamps.

"Akili doesn't have that escapability like Hank, but he does have pocket mobility," said Higgins of Smith.

"He's like Ricky Ray that way -- when you leave an opening, he'll take it."

When asked whether the hardest adjustment he'll have to make is the game's speed, the 12th man or CFL rules, Smith shook his head.

"All of that," he smiled, before trying to add reassurance to fans.

"The season is definitely not over. I'm very confident I can get the job done."

Based on what?


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