TORONTO — The Ottawa REDBLACKS capped off a Cinderella story for the ages while Bo Levi Mitchell’s meteoric rise continued in 2016. But in the end, no one was in the news more than Ottawa’s Henry Burris and Saskatchewan’s Chris Jones.
Burris was voted the CFL’s Person of the Year for 2016 while Jones was voted Newsmaker of the Year, as CFL.ca’s writers reflected on what will surely go down as a season for the ages.
The REDBLACKS’ historic upset in the 104th Grey Cup was voted Story of the Year, after an 8-9-1 Ottawa squad stunned the 15-2-1 Stampeders in a finale that won’t soon be forgotten.
Solomon Elimimian was the clear-cut Comeback Player of the Year in the eyes of the voters while, not surprisingly, Burris’ performance in the Grey Cup earned him the nod for One-Game Performance of the Year.
Finally, Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea has been voted the Canadian of the Year after coaching the Bombers to one of the most dramatic mid-season turnarounds in recent memory.
With a new year set to embark, we look back on the best of 2016 in the eyes of our writers:
PERSON OF THE YEAR:
HENRY BURRIS, QB — OTTAWA REDBLACKS
Henry Burris didn’t make the most headlines in 2016 but he was always at the forefront.
The spotlight never left the 41-year-old future Hall of Fame quarterback, from the time the REDBLACKS acquired Trevor Harris in February to the moment Burris held the 104th Grey Cup high above his head late in November.
After fighting off an injury, fighting for his starting job, fighting off his detractors and then fighting to pull off the biggest upset in Grey Cup history, Burris has been voted by the writers as the CFL’s Person of the Year.
“He started the season as Ottawa’s starter, lost the job to Trevor Harris, earned it back and then capped it all off with an incredible performance against his former team in the Grey Cup,” said Steinberg. “If that was the final game for the future Hall of Famer, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Writer Picks: Person of the Year
|Matthew Cauz||John Hufnagel|
|Jamie Nye||Bo Levi Mitchell|
|Don Landry||Mike O’Shea|
|Jim Morris||Bo Levi Mitchell|
|Pat Steinberg||Henry Burris|
|Marshall Ferguson||Henry Burris|
Burris has had a chip on his shoulder the same size as his smile throughout his career, something he’s thrived on since entering the league with the Stamps in 1997. But this season took the notion to new levels, peaking in the middle of the summer when, with Harris looming in the background, Burris called out the TSN panel during a halftime interview.
In the end, Ottawa’s ageless wonder silenced his critics both with words and his play on the field, continuing to defy logic.
“He shouldn’t be this good at this age,” said Marshall Ferguson. “He shouldn’t be starting with Trevor Harris looking over his shoulder. He shouldn’t have played in the Grey Cup let alone win game MVP.
“He did it all and it made CFL memories to last a lifetime for all REDBLACKS and CFL fans.”
In what was supposed to be the year of a horse named Bo Levi Mitchell, who won Most Outstanding Player and emerged as the face of the Canadian Football League to some, Burris overshadowed all.
Mitchell is a valiant runner-up.
“It was sort of a Greek tragedy for him,” said Morris. “He had one of the best years a quarterback could imagine, then loses the big game.”
STORY OF THE YEAR:
OTTAWA REDBLACKS WIN THE 104TH GREY CUP
When all anyone could talk about was the West’s continued dominance over the East, the Ottawa REDBLACKS showed it’s not always the journey but the destination.
The REDBLACKS’ thrilling overtime win over Calgary ended a 40-year championship drought in the city of Ottawa and also marked the single greatest upset in the Grey Cup’s 104-year history.
Suddenly, nothing else that happened throughout the 18-game season and playoffs in 2016 had mattered — including the REDBLACKS’ 8-9-1 record.
“The Ottawa REDBLACKS were supposed to be a powerhouse in 2016 but they struggled for most of the summer and fall, only really catching fire in the last couple of weeks before playing their best game of the year to beat Calgary,” said Don Landry. “Who saw that coming?
“A city without a championship for 40 years gets one from a team that underperformed for most of the regular season.”
Writer Picks: Story of the Year
|Matthew Cauz||Calgary’s quest for the greatest regular season in CFL history|
|Jamie Nye||The passing game comes alive|
|Don Landry||The Ottawa REDBLACKS’ Grey Cup win|
|Jim Morris||The Ottawa REDBLACKS’ Grey Cup win|
|Pat Steinberg||Ricky Ray’s swan song?|
|Marshall Ferguson||Receivers put up historic numbers|
Also popular among writers was the return of a dominant passing game, with quarterback Mike Reilly locking in and his top receivers Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker combining to set a new single-season high for receiving yards (topping Ben Cahoon and Jeremaine Copeland).
“2016 was only the fifth time in CFL history where 15 or more players have reached the 1,000-yard club, including back to back seasons by the big four in Ottawa,” said Ferguson.
“It’s an incredibly productive era for pass catchers and to me this trend defined the 2016 CFL season.”
Still, nothing will top what Henry Burris and the REDBLACKS accomplished — a dream finish to an unlikely scenario.
“To me, the REDBLACKS winning the Grey Cup tops any other story of the year,” said Morris. “It was one of the most exciting Grey Cups in years and I believe was a shot in the arm for the league.”
ONE-GAME PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR:
HENRY BURRIS IN THE GREY CUP
REDBLACKS fans may never stop talking about what Henry Burris did in the 104th Grey Cup this year.
Picture this: Burris, 41, became the oldest quarterback ever to win a Grey Cup; threw for the fourth-highest passing yards total in Grey Cup history; led his team to the largest upset ever in a Grey Cup; out-dueled the league’s MOP in Bo Levi Mitchell and did it all on a wonky knee that took him out of the warm-ups.
It’s hard to imagine a performance more memorable in sports let alone the 2016 CFL season.
“Biggest game, against the odds and Burris was ready to take the spotlight with one of the best quarterback performances in Grey Cup history,” said Nye.
Writer Picks: One-Game Performance of the Year
|Matthew Cauz||Henry Burris in the Grey Cup|
|Jamie Nye||Henry Burris in the Grey Cup|
|Don Landry||Henry Burris (and his O-line) in the Grey Cup|
|Jim Morris||Henry Burris in the Grey Cup|
|Pat Steinberg||Henry Burris in the Grey Cup|
|Marshall Ferguson||Henry Burris in the Eastern Final|
Jonathon Jennings’ performance and late-game heroics in the Western Semi-Final win over Winnipeg also comes to mind, as does Burris’ big day in the snow the following week in the Eastern Final.
In the end, however, nothing can top what happened in the 104th Grey Cup.
GAME OF THE YEAR:
THE 104TH GREY CUP CHAMPIONSHIP
It’s not always the best saved for last but with the 104th Grey Cup, that truly was the case.
No game could match the theatrics put on by the Ottawa REDBLACKS and Calgary Stampeders, who needed overtime to determine a winner that evening at Toronto’s BMO Field.
Add in two of the league’s top pivots in Bo Levi Mitchell and Henry Burris as well as one of the biggest upsets of all time and, well, you’ve got an all-time classic.
“The 2016 Grey Cup game featured a momumental upset fashioned only after a furious comeback by the favourite; a shoestring, game-saving tackle; and a juggling, winning touchdown catch in overtime,” said Landry.
“It might not have had any snow angels but it had everything else.”
Writer Picks: Game of the Year
|Matthew Cauz||The 104th Grey Cup|
|Jamie Nye||The 104th Grey Cup|
|Don Landry||The 104th Grey Cup|
|Jim Morris||The 104th Grey Cup|
|Pat Steinberg||The 104th Grey Cup|
|Marshall Ferguson||Calgary’s Week 6 overtime win over BC|
“The game had it all and I didn’t want it to end,” said Nye.
Yes, the 104th Grey Cup Championship was just one of those games, one that ended the 2016 season on a perfect note.
“We were all wrong!” said Cauz. “The biggest upset in years … ever?”
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
SOLOMON ELIMIMIAN, LB — BC LIONS
The dreaded Achilles injury, one of the worst in pro sports.
It’s claimed many careers across many sports over the years but for Solomon Elimimian and John White, two CFL stars who lose their 2015 campaign to career-threatening injuries, they each had other ideas.
Elimimian was voted the Comeback Player of the Year for 2016 almost unanimously while White is the runner-up.
“After an injury that had some wondering if the linebacker could go sideline to sideline and have the same impact, yeah . . . he’s just fine,” said CFL.ca’s Jamie Nye.
Writer Picks: Comeback Player of the Year
|Matthew Cauz||Solomon Elimimian|
|Jamie Nye||Solomon Elimimian|
|Don Landry||Solomon Elimimian and John White|
|Jim Morris||Solomon Elimimian|
|Pat Steinberg||Solomon Elimimian and John White|
|Marshall Ferguson||C.J. Gable|
A year after becoming the first ever defence-only player to win Most Outstanding Player, Elimimian suffered the devastating season-ending injury in the summer of 2015. He responded this season with a career year, recording 129 tackles and eight sacks on a resurgent Lions club.
While Elimimian’s selection was nearly unanimous, plenty of consideration was also given to White, the Eskimos’ running back rebounding from a similar injury in similar fashion.
White was one of the top two running backs in the league before losing his 2015 season early in training camp last year but bounced back nicely the following campaign.
“I include both players here because they came back in 2016 after suffering the same devastating injury the year before,” said Steinberg. “White and Elimiman both suffered ruptured Achilles tendons in 2015 but were huge parts of their team’s success one year later.”
Keep an eye on Eskimos defensive back John Ojo and REDBLACKS running back William Powell, who hope to follow similar paths in 2017 after this year suffering the same injury.
NEWSMAKER OF THE YEAR:
CHRIS JONES, HC & GM — SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS
By releasing John Chick and Weston Dressler last January, new Riders boss Chris Jones was erasing any hope of flying under the radar in his new job. As it turns out, that was only the beginning of an unforgettable year for one of the league’s larger-than-life figures.
Jones wasn’t the saviour some might have hoped for (at least so far) but that didn’t stop him from making plenty of headlines in his first year wearing Green and White (and of course that trademark black polo).
“He made a lot of headlines, but not always for the right reasons,” said CFL.ca’s Jim Morris. “I believe this upcoming season will be important for his legacy. Is he a genius who can rebuild a team, or just another coach who became convinced he knew more than anyone else?”
Writer Picks: Newsmaker of the Year
|Matthew Cauz||Chris Jones|
|Jamie Nye||Chris Jones|
|Don Landry||Henry Burris|
|Jim Morris||Chris Jones|
|Pat Steinberg||Chris Jones|
|Marshall Ferguson||The Saskatchewan Roughriders|
After cementing his legacy as a Canadian Football League coach following a dramatic turnaround and eventual Grey Cup win in Edmonton, it was only a couple of weeks later when Jones embarked on the next goal in his football career as a general manager and coach in Saskatchewan.
In the same year he shook up the roster and parted ways with many of the team’s biggest names, Jones and his club were fined for roster violations while in the end, Saskatchewan failed to make the playoffs for the second straight season, struggling to a 5-13 record.
The headlines even continued after the season ended and the playoffs were over, as questions regarding Jones and franchise quarterback/pending free agent Darian Durant continued throughout the month of December.
Whether for better or worse, you can’t think of the 2016 season without mention of Chris Jones and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“While he technically made the jump to Saskatchewan in 2015, he was the catalyst of countless stories this past calendar year, both good and bad,” said Pat Steinberg. “2016 wasn’t great for the Riders on the field but Jones seems to have the group on the right track heading into the new year.”
CANADIAN OF THE YEAR:
MIKE O’SHEA, HC — WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
Some of the league’s biggest names — Bo Levi Mitchell, Henry Burris and Chris Jones, to name a few — hold American passports, but it doesn’t mean Canadians didn’t have an impact this season.
Plenty of Canadians shaped the outcome of the 2016 campaign, from Marcel Desjardins’ Grey Cup-winning REDBLACKS to Wally Buono’s triumphant return to the sideline with the upstart BC Lions.
While Jerome Messam was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian, no one with a national passport made a bigger mark on the calendar year than Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea.
Writer Picks: Canadian of the Year
|Matthew Cauz||Jerome Messam|
|Jamie Nye||Marcel Desjardins|
|Don Landry||Mike O’Shea|
|Jim Morris||Wally Buono|
|Pat Steinberg||Mike O’Shea|
|Marshall Ferguson||Brad Sinopoli|
O’Shea might have been coaching for his job when the Bombers started 1-4 but what happened after that was historic.
“He showed resiliency and class even as calls for his dismissal reached deafening levels,” said Landry. “The Bombers emerged, finishing the season at 11-7 and O’Shea was granted a contract extension, proving that a coaching change isn’t always what’s necessary when a team is down.”
Added Steinberg: “2016 was a pretty good year for O’Shea, and especially the back half. O’Shea’s steadying presence helped resurrected the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and he was rewarded with a three-year extension earlier this month.”