Menu
@
April 5, 2024

Andrew Harris set to officially retire as a Bomber

Andrew Harris will officially close his history-making football career later this month by scribbling his signature on a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Harris made the announcement on the latest edition of the Blue Bombers ‘Handled Internally’ podcast and the news puts a bow on a spectacular Canadian Football League career that began in 2009 as a practice roster player with the B.C. Lions and concluded after last season as a member of the Toronto Argonauts.

“When an athlete looks back at where he had the biggest impact, I think my impact was felt the most with the Bombers from when I started there to when I left,” said Harris in a chat with bluebombers.com. “That’s when I had the most stats, the most impact on a community and fan base. And it’s my hometown. It was a dream come true to be a Bomber. With all those factors, retiring as Bomber only seemed right.”

He unquestionably made the most impact here with the Blue Bombers after joining the club in free agency in 2016 before his exit from the team after the 2021 season. During that span, he played a pivotal role in the franchise’s rebirth and was front and centre as the club ended its 28-year Grey Cup drought with a victory in 2019 and followed that with another title in 2021.

He captured three rushing titles (2017-19) in Winnipeg, was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian in 2017 and was honoured as the Grey Cup MVP and Most Outstanding Canadian in 2019. Harris currently ranks sixth in career rushing in Blue Bombers history with 5,402 yards and became the CFL’s all-time leading Canadian rusher in 2019. He is one of just six players in league history to have eclipsed the 10,000-yard mark as a rusher, retiring with 10,380 yards and 51 touchdowns while recording 607 receptions for 5,489 yards and 32 touchdowns.

All that said, his exit from the Blue Bombers in the winter of 2022 in free agency was anything but a clean break-up. Yet, given the benefit of time he said he has a new perspective on what unfolded when he left for Toronto.

“I have the utmost respect for every single soul in the Bomber organization and I fully respect the decision that led to me being gone. I’ve come to grips with that,” he said. “Fully understanding the whole situation and looking back at it now, if I had been on the other side, I probably would have done the same thing.

“I came into that last season in Winnipeg hurt and not in the best shape. That was the same with the majority of guys through COVID, but I was also going through a separation, and I was in a dark spot. I wasn’t fully committed and engaged to the team. When I was there in the building I was, but when I was hurt or not there, my mind was other places and sometimes that distracted me from being the best I could be for the Bombers. When I was there, I did do my job. The other side of it was too much of a distraction. Looking back at it… in my eyes it was disrespect then. Now, in the grand scheme of things, it’s what needed to be done.”

Harris will officially sign his ceremonial contract with Blue Bombers President and CEO Wade Miller on the night of April 27th at The Met and a gala red-carpet event for the premiere of the documentary on his life – ‘Running Back Relentless’ (Ticket details are here).

“I’ve got to talk to Wade now about a signing bonus,” said Harris with a chuckle. “Good luck, eh?”

The documentary, which will also be available on Apple TV this summer, is an emotionally charged journey through his childhood through to his last days with the Argos. Produced by Upper Canada Films and directed by Taylor Prestidge, the film documents his beginnings in the game with the Eastman Raiders in Steinbach, to the Grant Park Pirates, Oak Park Raiders and the Vancouver Island Raiders junior team before he turned pro.

There is brutal honesty from Harris in the documentary, including his unsettled upbringing, the trouble he was chasing as a youth, to his frustrations and mental health struggles.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned from all my experiences and completing my first career as an adult and going to the next one – and even in relationships – is being vulnerable and how that can impact you, and being accepting of who you were, who you are.

“I feel like I’m an influential person. Going through what I have and the seriousness of it, the depths of it, maybe people will appreciate it a little more. So, if I could impact one person with this documentary – maybe someone who is in a dark place or is getting to a dark place – to not make a horrible choice that impacts their life or going as far as having suicidal thoughts, that’s a win for me.”

Harris has teamed up with ServcoCanada and the Samantha Mason Foundation, which focuses on mental wellness for youth, to help others who may have or may be experiencing the same challenges.

“I’ve always tried to be a positive person,” he said. “But a lot of my motivation and a lot of what got me to where I was at on the field came from overcoming obstacles. It definitely came from a dark place. When people go through trauma or have hardships, there’s that fight or flight mentality. For myself, I’ve always been a fighter even through the darkness. The trauma I’ve been through helped me to focus on just what I could control and what I do best was on the field athletically. It was pushing through that darkness that allowed me to play with that chip. After watching the film people will see there were a lot more layers to that than I might have said before.

“The reason I was so emotional and took so many things to heart was because it meant so much to me. It was more than just a game. I wasn’t just playing for myself and my teammates – I was playing for my mindset, my soul and to overcome the things I was trying to overcome. That’s why I played with so much passion. It’s not just about talent, it’s not just about your teammates. Sometimes there’s ulterior motives that get you to that next level and achieve something greater than maybe you thought you could have.”

Harris said as difficult and as raw and emotional as it was to relive some of his traumas while putting together the documentary, he also found the process to be helpful.

“Absolutely. My whole career has been therapeutic,” he admitted. “Working through my childhood trauma… I didn’t have a good example of how to treat people right. How to be a good friend, a good partner. A lot of stuff I’ve come through has just been trial and error. Everyone is always learning and growing, but my whole career has been therapy. After going through it now and knowing it wasn’t the most graceful material but I still did it my own way, I have a lot of appreciation now. Now I can sit back, reflect, and say, ‘Wow, what a ride.’”

Harris and his family, including his young son Axton – another baby on the way in September – have recently settled in London, Ont. where he is working for Atlas Engineer Products – the company founded by Hadi Abassi, the man who became such an influential figure in his life when he moved to Vancouver Island to play junior football.

His final two seasons in Toronto also allowed him to gear down as a player, becoming more of a leader in the Argonauts locker room and help in his transition to life after football.

“I grew more as a person and more as a teammate by going to Toronto,” Harris said. “I needed to do that. With where I was at in Winnipeg, I think I would have just stayed the course and fizzled out a lot quicker.

“In Toronto I still cared about what I did on the field, but it was more about what I did off the field that allowed me to reach new levels as a player and become a more well-rounded teammate.”

There’s a poignant moment near the end of the documentary when Harris’ mom is quoted as saying she just wants her son to be happy. Asked if he has found that contentment as he is in the early days of retirement as a player, Harris smiled.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Going through this process in Toronto and getting to a career now where I’m in a competitive industry that I understand and am really focused on is a big thing.

“I’m absolutely loving it now. All I’m focused on now is my career and my family. We’ve got another one on the way now, too. Life feels way more complete and on the right track now more than it ever has. I’m in a good place.”