Sto­ry­book end­ing still in sight

Win­nipeg, Hamil­ton vet­er­ans gun­ning for an­other chance to play for Grey Cup

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - BRUCE ARTHUR

In an eight-team league there are only so many in­ter­sec­tions, be­cause there are only so many roads.

Matt Du­ni­gan played for six Cana­dian Foot­ball League teams in his ca­reer; Da­mon Allen played for seven. Doug Brown has played for one, spend­ing a decade on the prairie with­out ever win­ning a Grey Cup. He has come close, sure, but never close enough. He is 37 years old now, and has one more chance. That’s it.

“I don’t want this to be my last game,” says the 6-7, 290-pound de­fen­sive line­man, one day be­fore the East Divi­sion fi­nal be­tween Win­nipeg and Hamil­ton.

How­ever this sea­son ends, Brown has said he is plan­ning to re­tire.

On the other side of the ball will be his former Win­nipeg team­mate, Kevin Glenn, who was the quar­ter­back here the last time the Blue Bombers reached the Grey Cup.

He has an­other chance, too, af­ter the last one was taken away from him.

“You don’t want to make a game big­ger than what it is, but get­ting to that game would mean a lot,” says Glenn.

“It’ll be one of those things that I al­ways wanted to do.”

The last time, both men were robbed by one un­lucky play. Late in the 2007 East fi­nal, Glenn — then among the league’s lead­ing quar­ter­backs — and run­ning back Charles Roberts flubbed a hand­off, and Glenn and Toronto line­backer Kevin Eiben both dove at the ball.

Glenn came out of it with a bro­ken arm.

Backup Ryan Din­wid­die be­came the first quar­ter­back in NFL or CFL his­tory to make his first start in a cham­pi­onship game, threw three in­ter­cep­tions, and lost 23-19 to Saskatchewan.

Af­ter­ward, Brown flatly stated that had Glenn played, Win­nipeg would have rolled. And he was right.

And now here they are again, their roads in­ter­sect­ing in a year where no team is a pow­er­house, and no­body is as­sured of any­thing.

As if they didn’t know.

“It goes to show you these op­por­tu­ni­ties are def­i­nitely lim­ited, and they only come along so of­ten, and with one mis­step, one dropped hand­off, a guy breaks his arm, and you’re no longer as ca­pa­ble of con­tend­ing as you were,” says Brown, an eight-time all-star. “Prepa­ra­tion out the win­dow.”

“I haven’t re­ally watched it, re­played it, but I al­ways think about it,” says Glenn, who was re­leased by Win­nipeg af­ter the 2008 sea­son. “I can’t change the past. It’s one of those things where you have to for­get it, get it out of your mind ... so it doesn’t come up at the wrong time, and you’re think­ing about it, and it hap­pens again.”

If it hap­pens this time, it seems more likely to hap­pen to Win­nipeg’s in­jury-prone quar­ter­back, Buck Pierce, though Glenn was pulled for per­for­mance rea­sons in two of his team’s three losses to the Bombers this sea­son.

There are other play­ers left from that Win­nipeg team — Blue Bombers re­ceiver Ter­ence Edwards and long-snap­per Chris Cvetkovic among them — but Brown is the one edg­ing to­ward the end of his foot­ball life. He al­ready has a weekly ra­dio show and news­pa­per col­umn; he will be a me­dia star, but it won’t be the same.

How­ever, de­spite spend­ing a decade toil­ing for a team that has not won a Grey Cup since 1990 — and de­spite be­ing up­set by a 8-10 Cal­gary team in 2001, when the Bombers were 14-4 — Brown says he wouldn’t change a thing.

“(Montreal Alou­ettes now-re­tired cen­tre) Brian Chiu used to tell me all the time, `Oh, you should come join us,’ ” says Brown, who was born and raised in the Vancouver area. “I heard rum­blings once when I was on the verge of be­com­ing a free agent that I could have gone and played in Vancouver. But it just fit me play­ing here.

“I was al­ways happy to come back here. I think a lot of it was play­ing in the at­mos­phere, this environment, where up un­til (the re­turn of the Win­nipeg Jets) we were re­ally a one-sport town, and the fab­ric of this foot­ball team was em­bed­ded in our sup­port­ers and this com­mu­nity.

“I grew up in places where foot­ball was ap­pre­ci­ated, but fans weren’t as tuned into the team as they are here in Win­nipeg, and there’s noth­ing bet­ter than play­ing in front of a fan base where it af­fects the mood of the whole town, whether you suc­ceed or fail.”

He says he does not take fail­ure too per­son­ally be­cause he un­der­stands the lim­its of what one man can do. He talks about former Bomber Milt Stegall, per­haps the best re­ceiver in CFL his­tory, who re­tired with­out a ring af­ter that 2007 game.

“He had some close calls, but he was never able to put an en­tire team on his back and make them all Milt Stegall and carry them to vic­tory,” Brown says. ”ob­vi­ously in my case it’s a much smaller de­gree than that, but what he has taught me is you con­trol what you can con­trol and in­flu­ence the peo­ple around you to the great­est de­gree, and that’s as far as things can go.

“If you’re a quar­ter­back it’s dif­fer­ent be­cause they touch the ball ev­ery play, and I touch it once ev­ery 11 years.”

He burns for this, though. Win­nipeg lost beloved de­fen­sive-line coach Richard Har­ris to a sud­den heart at­tack this sea­son; there is a pic­ture of a scowl­ing Har­ris in the Bombers fa­cil­ity, and, ev­ery time Brown walks by on the way to a meet­ing, he says he thinks, “What did I do wrong to­day?” Har­ris never won a Grey Cup, ei­ther.

Brown, along with ev­ery­body else, has one more chance to get it right, in the last game be­fore Canad Inns Sta­dium gets left be­hind.

“I feel like this is a movie-type end­ing,” says Win­nipeg de­fen­sive line­man Odell Wil­lis, who calls Brown “Leg­end.” “Last game ever in the sta­dium; Leg­end’s last game in the sta­dium; you got Kevin Glenn who’s com­ing back to this. … It’s go­ing to be a beau­ti­ful thing. Sto­ry­book end­ing, I’m telling you.”

One way or the other, yes. One way or the other.

JOHN WOODS, THE WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Bombers de­fen­sive line­man Doug Brown is hop­ing to­day’s East Divi­sion fi­nal isn’t his fi­nal game. Brown, 37, will re­tire fol­low­ing the sea­son.

BEN NELMS, REUTERS

B.C. Lions head coach Wally Buono shares a light mo­ment with kicker Paul Mccallum dur­ing prac­tice at BC Place on Satur­day. The Lions play host to the Edmonton Eski­mos in to­day’s CFL West Divi­sion fi­nal.

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