It might be the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were in complete denial for days, if not weeks or months.
But the finality of the 2013 Canadian Football League season — even though it hardly came as a surprise — seemed to hit them hard in the moments after Saturday’s 37-7 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. So, while some did the handshakes and back-slaps thing one more time, a number were caught simply staring off into the distance — aware it marked their last game as a team and, perhaps, their last day in Bomber colours.
"It sucks to go home," said slotback Cory Watson. "That’s the first thing that comes to my mind. It sucks to go home and not have another week to play. That’s what I’m thinking right now.
"This has been tough. I know it’s part of the business, especially in the position we’re in right now. But it’s hard. It’s hard knowing that most of the guys you see around right now won’t be here. That hurts."
Yes, so while their elimination from the playoff picture was official weeks ago and the sinking ship that was the 2013 season began taking on water as early as July, there was more emotion than you might have imagined in the Bomber dressing room following their 15th loss in 18 games.
Relief? Sure. Resignation? Yup. Disappointment? A gazillion times over.
"I might have dealt with more off-the-field distractions in previous seasons, but this has got to be the most painful season," said offensive tackle Glenn January. "Looking at the guys we have in the locker-room and the camaraderie we have... for us to continually go out there and put forth performances like today... this is our job and whenever you’re failing at your job on a national stage it is extremely, extremely painful.
"We all accept responsibility for what happened, but at the end of the day plays weren’t made, there were too many mistakes. I’m glad that I’m the left tackle for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers right now, because there are some tough decisions to be made higher up. And it’s going to be a tough process for all of us in this locker-room."
Bomber head coach Tim Burke said after the game he’ll now work to evaluate the players, potential free agents and also work on who to protect for the Ottawa Redblacks dispersal draft on Dec. 16. That is, assuming the Bombers don’t make a coaching change before then.
But while Burke’s days will be full — for now — the players will soon be exiting for the off-season. And who returns for training camp in 2014 will make this off-season one of the juiciest in recent memory.
"This has been such a rough season, man," said running back Will Ford. "I enjoyed all the coaches, all the guys. I was just talking about it last night: A football player sacrifices so much, he sacrifices time with his family... all to play the game that you love and it’s not guaranteed. It’s here today and can be gone tomorrow.
"I respect these guys, the guys who put themselves on the line for the game they love. It’s in all of us. And that’s why it’s hard to say good-bye."