All season the B.C. Lions said their goal wasn't to repeat as Grey Cup champions. What the Lions really wanted was to be champions again.
In a deathly quiet dressing room Sunday evening, where dejection and disappointment hung heavy in the year, veteran cornerback Dante Marsh was asked to sum up the season after B.C.'s humbling 34-29 loss to the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL West Final.
"It was a waste of a season,'' Marsh said bluntly.
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Harsh? Probably. But Marsh neatly summed up the Lions' feelings of dissatisfaction and failure. At 13-5 the Lions had the best record in the CFL. All they needed was one more win to advance to the 100th Grey Cup.
Instead, they will be remembered as another good team that couldn't get it done.
"We didn't go out there and play a football game,'' said linebacker Anton McKenzie. "We lost a game we should have won.
"There is no way we should have played like that. It's very discouraging and very embarrassing.''
From the second play from scrimmage, when Stamps' quarterback Kevin Glenn took advantage of blown coverage to hit Marquay McDaniel for a 68-yard touchdown, the Lions were on their heels. Glenn looked like a surgeon as he dissected the B.C. defence, throwing for 303 yards and three touchdowns.
"He made plays,'' said defensive halfback Ryan Phillips. "He attacked our disciplines and we didn't make enough plays.''
A Lions' defence that led the league in 18 of 25 categories - including fewest points allowed (354), rushing yards allowed a game (76.4) and least passing touchdowns (20) - suddenly sprung leaks.
"There was some miscommunication,'' said McKenzie. "They capitalized on all the things we messed up on.''
The Lions didn't score an offensive touchdown until late in the game. Quarterback Travis Lulay showed the rust of someone who hadn't played a full game since hurting his throwing shoulder Oct. 12.
"It's a disappointing day,'' said Lulay, who competed 33 of 46 passes for 274 yards and one touchdown.
"This is a game for an opportunity to play for a championship. It hurts.''
Slotback Arland Bruce wasn't offering any explanations.
"There is nothing you can say in a losing locker room,'' said Bruce, who had six catches for 56 yards after missing five games with a concussion.
"I did what I can do and we lost.''
The much anticipated all-Canadian showdown at running back between B.C.'s Andrew Harris and Calgary's Jon Cornish wasn't even a contest.
Cornish rumbled for 112 yards on 18 carries. He cut and slashed through the Lions' defence like a lumberjack in the forest with a new chainsaw. Cornish also had two catches for 42 yards.
Harris looked like a fly caught in a spider's web as he struggled against the Calgary defence, managing just 33 yards on eight carries. He did make 10 catches for 75 yards.
For a long time after the game Harris sat as his locker, rocking back and forth. He eventually vented anger.
"That team isn't better than us, that's what stings the most,'' said the Winnipeg native.
"It was a lack of intensity, a lack of execution. We just didn't rise to the occasion. That team isn't even close as good as us. We just dropped the ball today.''
After facing the media Lulay went through the dressing room, shaking players' hands. He wrapped big offensive lineman Patrick Kabongo in a bear hug and patted defensive end Keron Williams on the shoulder.
For some of the players, the loss will be their last experience as a Lion.
Offensive guard Jon Hameister-Ries didn't even dress Sunday, sidelined by knee and back problems. At only 28 years old he already has the walk of someone 50 years older. Knee problems also might end the career of right guard Jesse Newman.
On offence, Bruce, 34, might have played his last game as a Lion. There's even some question if veteran slotback Geroy Simon will be back.
The 37-year-old Simon passed Milt Stegall as the CFL's all-time leader in pass receiving yards, but also missed five games with two hamstring injuries. He finished the year with 54 catches for 700 yards but it's the first time since 2002 he didn't have over 1,000 yards receiving.
As the dressing room slowly cleared out receiver Paris Jackson packed belongings into a bag. The 32-year-old from Vancouver shrugged when asked about his future.
"I don't know,'' he said. "My contract is year to year.
"It seems like every year it gets worse and worse for playing time.''
Head coach Mike Benevides said changes will happen.
"There are always going to be changes,'' said the first-year coach. "Football is always a world of change.
"There's always 20 per cent of a roster that is going to change. We failed today. Change in our business is enviable.''
The loss was especially painful for many of the Lions because they truly believed they were a better team this year than last. They wanted to sip champagne out of the Grey Cup one more time together.
It was an opportunity lost. A chance that some players might never have again.
"The biggest thing is I wanted to win a Grey Cup with the guys I've been here with the last eight years,'' said Phillips, who has spent his entire career with B.C.
"Everybody understands that time is ticking. You never know what the off-season will bring.''
Centre Angus Reid, a Vancouver resident, expects a long, cold winter.
"I thought we had the team we could do it this year,'' said Reid.
"It's going to be one of those tough off-seasons where there will be regrets. It's just the beginning of the hurt.''
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