Harris at peace with fate




HAMILTON — If Sunday’s Grey Cup against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats proves to be the last hurrah for Andrew Harris, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back says he’ll be at peace with that fate.

“I’ll have to ask myself, do I still want to add to my legacy or add to my career? Do I still have that same fire in my belly, that same hunger? Do I still feel excited about being out there with my teammates and working at it?” Harris told the Free Press during Bombers media availability at the Hamilton Convention Centre on Thursday.

“Those are the questions I got to ask myself when the season’s over. But I think I’d be at peace, absolutely, with whatever decision I make.”

John Woods / Canadian Press files</p>
<p>“Everyone wants to go out on top," Andrew Harris said. "But win or lose on Sunday, I’m still going to be weighing both options."</p>
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John Woods / Canadian Press files

“Everyone wants to go out on top,” Andrew Harris said. “But win or lose on Sunday, I’m still going to be weighing both options.”

To be clear, Harris hasn’t made up his mind one way or the other. And while he’ll be sure to put in the necessary evaluation that goes into making a big decision such as retiring from the sport he loves and grew up playing, there are some other factors to consider.

For instance, he’s not happy with how his current season has gone. Harris injured his calf early in training camp and missed the first three regular-season games, only to return for seven games before a knee injury sidelined him again, this time for nearly two months. He returned in last week’s Western final win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, where he didn’t miss a beat, racking up 136 rushing yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.

The fact Harris was able to perform so well under such difficult circumstances, with just one full practice under his belt, that didn’t open his mind to perhaps the benefit of playing fewer games in season — something that you’d think could prolong his career. Rather, it confirmed a desire to finish his run in the CFL playing a full season, something he’s done for most of his career.

“There is a part of me that doesn’t really want to end this way. How I came in this year, it wasn’t the way I wanted to come in and definitely not the way I wanted to finish the regular season,” Harris said. “We’ll see what happens. I really haven’t made a decision yet.”

John Woods / Canadian Press files</p>
<p>Harris has already established himself as one of the greatest running backs in CFL history.</p>
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John Woods / Canadian Press files

Harris has already established himself as one of the greatest running backs in CFL history.

As for his legacy, Harris has already established himself as one of the greatest running backs in CFL history.

With 9,661 rushing yards and 5,223 more through the air over his 11-year career, he’s the all-time rushing leader and all-time leader in yards from scrimmage among Canadian-born players. Harris has led the league in rushing yards in three seasons, all consecutively (2017-2019), and has been named a West Division all-star six times and a CFL all-star five times.

Harris was named the most outstanding Canadian in 2017 – an award he would likely have claimed more of had he not had to compete with another star Canadian tailback in Jon Cornish earlier in his career – and in 2019 he was named the Grey Cup’s most valuable player and most valuable Canadian, a feat that had never been achieved before.

At 34 years old, the constant grind is certainly taking its toll on Harris’ body. Every year it gets tougher to put in the kind of work over the off-season required to perform at the level he expects from himself. So, there is something to how Sunday might go, and if the Bombers do win back-to-back Grey Cups with a win over the Tiger-Cats, you have to wonder what riding into the sunset might mean for the Winnipeg native.

Daniel Crump / Free Press files</p>
<p>Harris has been named a West Division all-star six times and a CFL all-star five times.</p>
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Daniel Crump / Free Press files

Harris has been named a West Division all-star six times and a CFL all-star five times.

“Everyone wants to go out on top,” Harris said. “But win or lose on Sunday, I’m still going to be weighing both options. The result is maybe more of a defining factor that might help make my decision easier.”

While Harris’ performance on the field is what fans have come to appreciate about him most, it’s what he provides off it that is equally impressive to his teammates. He’s a leader in the locker room, exuding an energy capable of lifting his entire team come game day.

Special-teams guru Mike Miller knows exactly what that power looks like. He sits in the stall directly beside Harris and sees the kind of focus he brings to every practice and game.

“In the meeting rooms, he’s bringing along the young guys. When it comes to the game, he’s the ultimate gamer. He’s always 100 per cent dialed in,” Miller said. “He leads by example, and I just love the guy to death. He’s a huge, huge part of this team.”

John Woods / Canadian Press files</p>
<p>Blue Bombers Andrew Harris (left) and Deatrick Nichols do their best happy dance after defeating the Saskatchewan Roughriders Sunday at IG Field.</p>
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John Woods / Canadian Press files

Blue Bombers Andrew Harris (left) and Deatrick Nichols do their best happy dance after defeating the Saskatchewan Roughriders Sunday at IG Field.

Jermarcus Hardrick started his CFL career in 2014 with the B.C. Lions, where Harris had already established himself as a premier player in the league. They both signed in Winnipeg in 2016, so he has been around Harris for most of his time in the CFL and there’s few he respects more in the game.

Asked what a locker room without Harris might look and feel like, Hardrick didn’t want to entertain the idea. They’ve become like brothers over the years, and even the thought is enough to make his emotions rise to the surface.

“I don’t want to imagine it, I can’t,” Hardrick said. “I can’t picture myself without Andrew in Winnipeg and I’d hate to have that happen. But Andrew is a special talent, man, and I hope we can give him at least one more great performance.”

If Harris does decide to hang up the cleats, he’ll leave the team in good hands. Behind him waiting in the wings are Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine, two Canadians that have proven they can start and perform at this level.

Daniel Crump / Free Press files</p>
<p>With 9,661 rushing yards and 5,223 more through the air over his 11-year career, Harris is the all-time rushing leader and all-time leader in yards from scrimmage among Canadian-born players.</p>
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Daniel Crump / Free Press files

With 9,661 rushing yards and 5,223 more through the air over his 11-year career, Harris is the all-time rushing leader and all-time leader in yards from scrimmage among Canadian-born players.

Oliveira is also from Winnipeg, which would only add to Harris’ storybook ending if he were to pass the torch on to another local kid. Oliveira has known Harris for years, working out at the same gym in the off-season and has looked up to him his entire football career.

Before he was even eligible to play in the CFL, Oliveira said Harris would tell him that one day he was going to be the next in line to take over in Winnipeg. He added that Harris has been extra helpful in his development this season, and the two have become close friends because of it.

“He’s going to go down in history as the best running back to play in the Canadian Football League and it’s incredible to be able to have a guy like that to learn from,” Oliveira said.

“He’s going to go down in history as the best running back to play in the Canadian Football League and it’s incredible to be able to have a guy like that to learn from.” – Brady Oliveira

“As my confidence grows and I’m getting more comfortable in the system here, he just wants to teach me more. He wants to pass along the torch, and I really do see that happening, whether that’s next season or in a couple years.”

Harris had every excuse to walk away from the game in 2019 after delivering his hometown a Grey Cup for the first time in nearly 30 years. It made even more sense to move on once the 2020 season was cancelled owning to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as time went on and Harris started to see football highlights on TV, it was clear the desire to play was still there. It’s the same process Harris will go through this offseason before deciding on his future.

“I still wanted to play. I loved the team. I loved the coaching staff,” Harris said. “Ultimately, if you still feel that way and you’re excited about wanting to get out there, then you should go out there and do it. Once that fire kind of fizzles out and you see someone get hit and you think, ‘Ah, I don’t want to do that anymore,’ then I think maybe that’s when it’s time to call it quits.”

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

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