B.C. Lions' Andrew Harris and Calgary’s Jon Cornish in a duel for CFL supremacy
Alert the authorities: someone is about to get robbed. When the Canadian Football League hands out its year-end awards next month, either Andrew Harris of the B.C. Lions or Calgary’s Jon Cornish is going to be left feeling like someone stuck a gun in his back and made him hand over what is rightfully his. In this case, though, it won’t be a wallet getting ripped off. It’s going to be the CFL’s top-Canadian award.
How do you choose between one man who will lead the league in rushing and another who’s already broken a 45-year-old record for yards from scrimmage in a single season by a native son?
“Jon Cornish has probably got a little bit of a lead there, only because the rushing title is more prestigious in football history than yards from scrimmage, but it shouldn’t be,” TSN football analyst Glen Suitor tells the Straight in a telephone interview. “I really think it shouldn’t be, especially with the Canadian league and all the passing that’s involved. Tailbacks have to be a triple threat [running, catching. and blocking].”
Cornish, the New Westminster native, has been shredding defences all season for the Stampeders. Steadily improving year over year, the 27-year-old has come into his own this season, racking up a league-best 1,275 rushing yards with three games still to play.
A threat to find the end zone almost every time he touches the football, Cornish has been the main reason the Stamps have been able to stay within striking distance of top spot in the CFL West Division. When they lost starting quarterback Drew Tate in the second week of the season to a shoulder injury, there were many right then and there who wrote the Stamps off. Instead, Calgary tailored its offence around Cornish, who has responded with four games of 159 or more yards as part of his league-best totals.
And as with the top goal scorer in hockey or the home-run king in baseball, there is plenty of cachet in football to being the leading rusher. As Suitor suggests, it’s a sexy statistic that will surely resonate with voters when members of the Football Reporters of Canada cast ballots for the individual year-end honours.
In almost any other year, Cornish would be the hands-down winner as the league’s best Canadian. But Harris is making his own case for the award—and it’s every bit as compelling as the evidence being presented by Cornish.
With a nine-yard scamper around the right end in Hamilton on October 12, Harris eclipsed Terry Evanshen’s record for total yards from scrimmage by a Canadian (1,662). With 983 rushing yards and another 682 through the air, Harris has emerged as a threat to score every time the Lions have the football.
Evanshen’s was a mark that had stood for almost half a century. But Harris managed the feat in one fewer game than Evanshen required back in 1967, and with three games remaining on the Lions’ schedule, the Winnipeg native is bound to reach the type of total that may stand for another 50 years. Harris has been that good.
And he’s been good when the Lions have needed a boost this season, when the offence has been slow to start. Usually, it’s Harris providing the spark. And in recent weeks, with injuries sidelining veteran receivers Geroy Simon and Arland Bruce, Harris has been there to pick up the slack. The effort in Hamilton was a perfect example of Harris’s value to the team: he rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown and hauled in five catches for 53 yards and another major. The Tiger-Cats didn’t have an answer for him.
What makes his accomplishments so impressive is that Harris is just 25 years old, in his second season in the Lions offence and really his first full year as a starter. And he’s doing things the CFL hasn’t seen in a couple of generations. That has to grab the attention of voters when they cast their ballots for top Canadian later this month.
“I think Andrew Harris is really making a run with what he’s doing and the publicity he’s getting,” Suitor says. “Right now, I probably think Cornish has a bit of an edge, but it’s going to be tight. It’s too bad we can’t have both of those guys in Toronto going head-to-head [when the awards are handed out during Grey Cup week].”
An argument could be made that both Harris and Cornish deserve consideration for West Division finalist for the league’s most outstanding player this season. But after a virtuoso performance—maybe his best in the CFL—leading the Lions to a convincing win in Hamilton, quarterback Travis Lulay is giving every indication he’s intent on making a late push to hang on to the trophy he earned last season. And with the Leos sitting at 11-4 and holding the CFL’s best record, the award is likely Lulay’s to retain.
That leaves Cornish and Harris to duel for top-Canadian honours. And it’s going to be fascinating to see who will represent the West. Will those casting ballots get caught up in the gaudy totals of a guy who’s been one-dimensional but sensational at that aspect of the game this season? Or will they dig a little deeper than the top of the rushing chart to see the varied contributions being made by the other candidate?
It’s impossible to suggest that Cornish doesn’t deserve the top-Canadian award this year. But it seems criminal to think that Harris could be left out in the cold and without any individual recognition after having a season for the ages.
That’s why it’s time to call the cops. Someone’s getting robbed soon. It’s a shame. They are two terrific Canadian players. But only one can be the best.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter at @patersonjeff.