Storybook ending still in sight
Winnipeg, Hamilton veterans gunning for another chance to play for Grey Cup
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.
Bombers defensive lineman Doug Brown is hoping today’s East Division final isn’t his final game. Brown, 37, will retire following the season.
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.