Hot-handed Hank

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:11 AM ET

CALGARY -- It's not Ricky Ray vs. Henry Burris - says Henry Burris.

"Ricky Ray can throw for a million yards and if we win, we'll see them back here next weekend instead of playing on that crappy field you have up there."

That would be the place Burris and the Calgary Stamp Club anointed as 'Tom'monweath Stadium for Tom Higgins after the fired Edmonton coach won revenge with a 16-11 win over the Eskimos in the Labour Day Replay.

Higgins says it IS Burris vs. Ray today in McMahon Stadium in a game which boils down to loser finishes third. Most experts figure you'd have a better chance getting to the Grey Cup as the fourth-place crossover team playing in Montreal and Toronto on the road instead of away playoff games in the West.

"At this time of year, a lot of it involves how your quarterback plays. And now is as good as I've ever seen Henry play going into this stage of the season,'' says the Stampeders coach who gave Ray his break as a starting quarterback with the Eskimos.

Burris is hot. Ray is not.

In the last three games, there is no hotter quarterback in the league than Smilin' Hank.

He's 54-for-79 for 856 yards and six TD passes. He has the highest quarterback efficiency rating in the league at 129.5 over that stretch. No picks. No fumbles.

That last stat is significant because Burris's last three games follow missing three games with a finger injury. In his 11 games prior to the injury, he threw 12 interceptions and lost seven fumbles.

Higgins feels it was good for Burris to watch three. "He needed to step back, re-energize and refocus.''

The Stamps went from a minus 15 to plus five in the giveaway/takeaway category.

STANDING TALL

Eskimos coach Danny Maciocia says it's obvious Burris has a hot hand.

"He's standing tall and throwing the ball with a tremendous amount of confidence. He's in sync with what they are trying to do offensively and firing on all cylinders.''

Burris says when it comes to quarterback vs. quarterback, it's like goalie vs. goalie in hockey and pitcher vs pitcher in baseball. You don't actually go against the other guy, except in the NL where pitchers have to hit.

"Ricky Ray can't hit,'' he laughed.

"Singor Mobley and A.J. Gass. They can hit hard.''

Ray also won his last three but with zero touchdown passes and one interception. Ray hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since Sept. 24. He has four interceptions in that span.

If you're going to go with the hot goalie in this game, Burris is your man.

On the other hand, what's he ever won?

Throw that out there, and Burris is well aware of the fact that only two quarterbacks going into the playoffs have not led a team to a Grey Cup as a starter.

1. Dave Dickenson.

2. Henry Burris.

Burris, who started his career with the Stampeders and did win a Grey Cup ring carrying a clipboard behind Jeff Garcia here, says that doesn't count.

"That was a hand-me-down,'' he said.

You have to do it as a starting quarterback.

OH SO CLOSE

Burris came oh so close last year as a Saskatchewan Roughrider. He beat Jason Maas and the Eskimos in the semifinal on that crappy field in Edmonton, then went 28 for 39 for 71.8% for 416 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Lions in the West final only to watch Paul McCallum miss a chip shot field goal on the last play of the game to keep him out of the Grey Cup.

"This is the fun time. This is what you prepare for. We're going in on a good stride. We've won six of our last seven. Hopefully we'll keep riding the wave and go on.''

Burris has made the transition well from Saskatchewan to Stampeder.

"When you play for Saskatchewan, there are so many Roughriders fans across the country, it's like wherever you go, you're the home team. Here with Edmonton it's a heated rivalry. There's a lot of hatred there.''

Of everybody I talked to here yesterday, Burris had the ideal description for an Albertan to understand the importance of the coming games.

He puts it on the steak scale.

"This one is a 12-ounce. Then there's a 16 ounce, a 24-ounce and a 30-ounce.''


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