And then there was one.
One game that is.
As I have expressed over the last few days, few stadiums get the kind of send off that we were fortunate enough to give it, few teams that were the worst in the league only a season ago get a chance to end up in first and even fewer players get to play their last professional game at the biggest dance of them all, the Grand National Drunk in Vancouver, edition No. 99.
This will be my third and final Grey Cup appearance, but the seventh I have visited in total. Since we have so many players that have not only never been to a Grey Cup, but are coming off their first playoff game, I figure today's column could serve the purpose as a guide to steer and recommend things for the first-time user.
This week in Vancouver, players will encounter thousands of fans from across the country who annually migrate to whatever city the game may be in and have the time of their lives.
They will be outfitted in team colours and jerseys and face paint, 24 hours a day for pretty much the next five days, and they will be in every restaurant, hotel, bar and convention centre in the city. These people are the lifeblood of the CFL game, and you will meet some of the most colourful, storied, and fascinating people around.
Less Browne, a former CFL Hall of Fame player, and former Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach, told me the first time I went to the Grey Cup in 2001 that this week is, "the only time in your CFL career you will actually be treated like the professional you are." While I think the CFL has come a long way since I started in this league in terms of how it handles its assets -- its players -- Less was correct in identifying that you are treated rather exceptionally when you get to the biggest game that Canada has to offer. Do not abuse or exploit this good favour.
There will be lots of free swag from Reebok for the players. There will be courtesy cars to drive you around. You will get enough per diem money to buy a house. There will be countless media personnel on hand and on site, cheerleaders, and coaches, players, and alumni that are not playing. There will be awards night, the commissioner's breakfast, CFL player association parties, gala dinners, TV shows like Off The Record and social gatherings put on by every single team in the league. There will be countless fans and supporters of your team that have spent thousands simply to come watch you play one game and meet you. There is always something to do, and there is always someone who wants you to be somewhere.
If this is where you are thinking I'm going to tell all the players that they can't go out and have fun and enjoy the week, you are wrong. It is a once in a career experience for many, both on the field and off, and they should not have to hide in their hotel rooms worrying about whether enjoying themselves will be construed as being unfocused or not taking the upcoming game seriously.
That being said, allow me to impart some examples of what I have seen or witnessed -- without revealing the participants -- that are behaviours you want to avoid. You should not have to come to practice or meetings drunk, high or hung over, so don't. The way you practise during Grey Cup week will define how you play as an individual and as a team. If you want to hit the bars and clubs, do it early in the week. Come Thursday, Friday night, it is definitely time to reel it in. Do not tweet or Facebook in the wee hours of the morning or post pictures of yourself in a haphazard state or manner. Do not be seen anywhere on Saturday night past 10 p.m. and remember, whether you like it or not, you are an ambassador and representative of your team everywhere you go.
You will not, and should not, have the same experience as all those players and fans that are in Vancouver explicitly to tear it up. You just can't do both all week. Think of it as Grey Cup-lite with an opportunity to cement a legacy. Trust me when I tell you, there is no party or event out at the Grey Cup that will parallel the celebration you would be a part of in Winnipeg if you succeed in bringing home a title for the first time in 21 years.
Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.