The search was called off and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' season became a recovery mission on Saturday afternoon.
The question now -- following a 32-21 loss to the Calgary Stampeders at Canad Inns Stadium that dropped Winnipeg's season record to 4-11 -- is whether there is anything useful that can be recovered from the smoking wreckage of this disastrous Bombers season.
Any distant hope Bombers fans retained of a playoff appearance effectively went up in smoke when Winnipeg lost and the Edmonton Eskimos beat Saskatchewan in Edmonton. While the Bombers are still not mathematically eliminated, they need to win all three of their remaining games and have Edmonton lose all three of theirs just to stay alive.
It's not, in other words, any longer a matter of if the Bombers are going to be eliminated from playoff contention. Now, it's a matter of when.
So where does that leave us this morning?
All summer long, Bombers fans had been rummaging for something resembling an identity to reveal itself in the crash scene of their football team.
And there were some hopeful moments, faint taps of life coming from deep within the wreckage in the form of wins over Edmonton in July and Hamilton in August and September.
And then with a win last week in Montreal, it seemed like all the hoping and praying searchers have been doing was going to finally -- and against all odds -- be rewarded. While whatever was about to emerge from the twisted metal after Montreal was surely not going to be without scars and broken bones, there was at least going to be some life, right?
You're funny. Whatever life that might have been injected into this sad-sack football team by the Thanksgiving Miracle in Montreal evaporated barely a minute into Saturday's game when punt returner Demond Washington attempted to catch a Calgary punt with his face.
That is not the recommended method in pro football and the result was predictable -- a fumble by Washington and an early touchdown by Calgary that set the tone for a long afternoon of never-ending Bombers mistakes.
The final turnover tally by Winnipeg -- eight -- was a new season-high, but actually a new season-low. And that's saying something in a year in which the bar at Canad Inns Stadium is so low, a dwarf would have to stoop to get a drink.
So yeah, a recovery mission. But what's to recover?
Well, Jade Etienne -- that genius fourth-overall selection in the 2011 CFL draft -- finally caught his first professional pass on Saturday. If Etienne can just catch 42 more passes this Friday in Toronto against the Argos, he will have caught up to Edmonton's Nate Coehorn, who was taken fifth in 2011. Thirty-six more catches and Etienne will have caught up to B.C.'s Marco Iannuzi, who was taken sixth.
So there's that, I guess.
And then there's Joey Elliott, who proved with wins over Hamilton and Montreal that he is definitely the man you want under centre against teams who play primarily a zone defence. Alas, most teams in the CFL are like Calgary and play primarily man coverage, which is why Elliott has five losses to go with his two wins as a starter this season.
But still -- baseball teams have specialist pitchers who come out of the bullpen in only very specific situations. Elliott could be our left-hander who only pitches against left-handed hitters with red-headed wives named Melanie.
Are there worthwhile things that are going to come out of this season? Of course. Chad Simpson is a stud at tailback, rookie wide receiver Chris Matthews -- who went over 1,000 receiving yards against Calgary -- has all the raw materials to be one of this league's greats and slotback Terrence Edwards remains the heart, soul and conscience of this team.
Defensive end Alex Hall is hurt right now, but his nine sacks are still second-best in the CFL and his straight-ahead work ethic have made it easy to forget Odell Willis' offside penalties and never-ending dramatics. Henoc Muamba has matured by leaps and bounds at middle linebacker this season and could be a ratio-changer at that position for many years to come. And Jovon Johnson has proven as a strong-side linebacker that he's an excellent cornerback.
The patchwork offensive line has performed better in the second half of the season than anyone could reasonably expect, Justin Palardy is a steady and reliable place-kicker and Jonathan Hefney is still, when he's interested, capable of being the most dominating defensive back in the league.
So yeah, there's still lots of items of value to be salvaged from this wreckage. It's just that a playoff appearance is no longer among them.