Smilin' Hank overcomes dropsies

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:04 AM ET

Five games into last season George Cortez finally came up with the solution to what ailed the Stampeders most.

Reacting to an outing against B.C. that saw Henry Burris fumble twice and throw two interceptions, the offensive co-ordinator said the remedy was simple.

"I'm going to glue the ball to Henry's hand," deadpanned Cortez, adding levity to a situation that has seen Burris's Bunch turn the ball over 15 times in their last three playoff games.

Fact is, nothing has been discussed more around McMahon Stadium the last three years than Burris's efforts to cut down the forced throws and careless handling of a ball that hasn't bounced Calgary's way in the playoffs since they won the 2001 Grey Cup.

As if Stamps fans needed another painful reminder of their three first round playoff losses since:

- In 2005, Burris fumbled once and threw two interceptions as part of a six-turnover effort against Edmonton.

- In 2006, the turnover count climbed to seven thanks largely to Hank's fumble and four picks that saw Saskatchewan overcome a 21-5 half-time deficit.

- Last year, Burris fumbled for the third straight year and threw one interception in a 26-24 loss to the Riders that saw a last-minute onside kick recovered by Calgary negated by an offside call.

Regardless of the circumstances, all three games were essentially given away by the Stamps, who vow not to suffer the same fate in tomorrow's West final against B.C.

"I forgot most of it because I've developed amnesia, but one thing I do know is we learn from the past," said Burris, whose mantra this year has revolved around protecting the ball as opposed to being Superman.

"The number one thing I do not want to do is be careless with the football. That's the number one thing I think about when I step on the field."

And while most quarterbacks keep that very notion in mind, it appears Burris has finally figured out how to avoid past pitfalls.

"Whenever you go out there, you have to make plays but sometimes, you put yourself into situations where you're trying to make an extra couple yards when you shouldn't be trying to do that -- that's what happened in the past," said Burris, by far the league's most outstanding player even if he was omitted from the CFL's all-star team named yesterday.

"Now I get what I can and I get down. I'm not trying to out-run people -- I realize I'm 33 now, so there's no need for me to try doing it. As long as I have the ball in my hands -- that's what's most important."

With the help of Cortez and the additions of Dave Dickenson and former QB John Hufnagel in his corner, Burris tossed a career-high 39 TDs this year while limiting his interceptions to 14. He only fumbled the ball four times.

No longer is he trying to force passes with his rocket arm or throw desperation tosses off his back foot. Instead, he's embraced the concept of the hook slide, the out-of-bounds pass and the scramble to the sidelines.

"I didn't need to sit down with Henry one-on-one to discuss it -- he's a very bright individual," said Hufnagel of the realization that with all the talent around him, Burris simply had to manage the ball.

"I think the message had been sent."

No glue was required -- just a bit of mental moxie.

"He's come to understand you can't make every play," said Cortez. "As I've said to him, there are worse things than punting."

Yes, like cleaning out your locker after handing another team a Grey Cup ticket.


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