CALGARY — In a perfect world, Andrew Harris would have been up on stage at the Scotiabank Saddledome Thursday night collecting some CFL hardware, soaking up the public adulation of his peers and writing another compelling chapter in his inspiring personal tale.
The Most Outstanding Canadian trophy would have been a lock. And the Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back would likely have been the West Division finalist for Most Outstanding Player, although whether he could have beaten out Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver Brandon Banks will never be known.
Of course, the world isn’t perfect. And, as we found out this season, neither is Harris, who was conspicuous by his absence at the annual gala honouring the best of the year in three-down football.
A two-game suspension for PEDs tainted an otherwise stellar campaign in which he rushed for a league-best 1,380 yards, added another 529 receiving yards, scored eight touchdowns and helped get his hometown team to the Grey Cup for the first time since 2011.
It continues to hang over the future Hall-of-Famer like a dark cloud, as much as he wishes it would all just go away.
Harris — like seemingly everyone who gets busted — claims he unknowingly took the anabolic steroid. He blames a tainted over-the-counter supplement he purchased from a local health store. He’s apparently launched his own investigation on the matter, although whether that ultimately bears any fruit remains to be seen.
I’ll admit to having my doubts. But regardless whether you believe his story or not, there’s no question metandienone was in his system and could have enhanced his performance.
Which is why three members of the Winnipeg media — Free Press Bombers beat writer Jeff Hamilton, Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun and Darrin Bauming of TSN 1290 — did the right and honourable thing and decided they couldn’t cast a vote for him in any of the year-end award categories.
Harris did have the support of the other two local voters, Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea and legendary team broadcaster Bob Irving, but it didn’t matter. With just five votes in the market, his fate was sealed by a 3-2 count.
Quick memo to the CFL: how about you also do the right and honourable thing and immediately enact a rule that anyone caught with PEDs is automatically disqualified from post-season ballots. That way, a handful of my media colleagues don’t have to be forced to do your dirty work for you, which has unfairly earned them scorn and ridicule (and worse) from some biased fans and anonymous keyboard warriors who wouldn’t know integrity if it was staring them in the face.
Not surprisingly, Harris is carrying a bit of a chip on his shoulder these days, which he’s brought up in various interviews leading up to Sunday’s championship game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The 32-year-old feels he’s been unfairly judged and punished. He’s still angry.
I suspect that chip grew a few sizes on Thursday afternoon when results of the CFL Players’ Association All-Star Team were released. Despite being the top rusher in the league, Harris was snubbed in favour of the Montreal Alouettes’ William Stanback for the running back position.
That’s got to sting. The only logical conclusion to draw is that enough of the 430 players who cast ballots around the league believe Harris is a cheater. The majority weren’t willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. If that wasn’t the case, Harris would have won in a rout.
Remember when Montreal rush-end John Bowman raised plenty of eyebrows when he ripped into Harris earlier this season?
"Any cheater deserves to get what they get. If it was up to me, he’d get suspended longer. But that’s the way the CFL and the drug enforcement agency did it. Whatever he’s got to say, no excuses. Cause I know if it was anybody else, everybody would be piling on them. Just because it’s one of Canada’s favourite sons, we’re not going to take it easy on him either," Bowman said at the time.
Well, it’s pretty clear players did not take it easy on him. And that there are a lot more out there who share Bowman’s views than Harris and his supporters likely want to believe.
What’s done is done. It is what it is. Harris can’t go back in time and change things, even though I suspect he spends nearly every waking moment wishing he could. He does, however, have plenty of control over both the present and his future.
The Bombers have to be positively giddy that their most dangerous offensive weapon is spitting fire, at least internally, with plenty of fresh gasoline out there this week in the form of the awards show reminder and all-star nominees, not to mention being asked about it by scribes covering the Grey Cup from across the nation.
Harris has done his best to deflect, suggesting he’s got his eyes on the prize and is focued on the task at hand. But you know it still burns, perhaps now more than ever.
What better time to send his own message to the league, plus anyone who dares doubt him, than at McMahon Stadium on Sunday? If the Bombers are to tame the Ticats, they’re going to need Harris at his best.
A dominant performance by Harris would go a long way to ending a 28-year championship drought for the city he grew up in, turn the page on his recent past and begin authoring a pretty compelling redemption story.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.