The CFL's best regular-season team for more than a decade has finally put two Grey Cups together, and the question is whether it can make it three in a row.
"It was harder this year than last year so it will be even harder next year," linebacker Chip Cox said Tuesday as the Alouettes held a last team meeting and cleared out their lockers at Olympic Stadium.
"I know everyone out there in the CFL is going to be looking at us again, and they're going to come at us even harder because we did it back-to-back. They know we're the team to beat."
A victory parade will be held Wednesday along Ste-Catherine Street in the heart of downtown, and it will be even tougher to earn another if the team cannot sign a number of high-profile veterans who are eligible to become free agents this winter.
Cox, quarterback Anthony Calvillo, slotback Ben Cahoon, running back Avon Cobourne, receiver S.J. Green, defensive back Jerald Brown and kicker Damon Duval are all in that group.
Cox, who joined the Alouettes in 2006 after a failed bid to catch on with the Detroit Lions, said he will take another stab at making it in the NFL. If he attracts no interest, the team's nominee as outstanding defensive player wants to return to Montreal.
"Either way, I'll be happy," he said.
Although a final decision has yet to be made, Calvillo expects to be back despite having to go for surgery to remove half of his thyroid gland, where a suspicious lesion was found during tests in hospital while he was being treated for a bruised sternum in August.
Calvillo said his main concern about the surgery is that, because the thyroid is next to the vocal chords, it may make his voice "crack" and make it hard for teammates to hear his signals on the field.
Cahoon, who like Calvillo is 38, takes time every year to talk to his family and decide whether to return.
The problem for general manager Jim Popp will be to find money under the league's salary cap to pay players whose value has no doubt risen after winning consecutive Grey Cups.
Green has developed into a favourite target over the past two seasons and had more than 100 receiving yards in Montreal's 21-18 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Grey Cup last Sunday. Cobourne had a quiet regular season, but was a force in two playoff games.
Both could be attractive to other teams.
Popp said some players may have to choose between staying with a winning program or making a little more money elsewhere.
"All I can tell you is that a number of times guys left to chase dollars and haven't had near the success they had with this team," Popp said. "And for what they left for, they made a lot more by making the playoffs here.
"But I guess promises get made from other places or the grass looks greener on the other side. I don't worry about it. We'll make every attempt to keep our guys and do what we can within the cap and if someone really wants to be here, they'll be here."
The notion was raised in the Montreal media this week that Cahoon, whose role in the offence was reduced this season, could return to play another year, but with another team.
"I truly believe that if Ben's going to play he will finish his career here," Popp said. "I'd be very shocked if he ended up playing for another team. That doesn't mean it can't happen, but he's played his whole career and set all those records with this organization.
"He may not have caught as many balls or got 1,000 yards, but he's a lot more productive than two-thirds of the CFL. He draws a lot of attention and opens things up for other players and that has value."
Coach Marc Trestman said he encouraged the free agents to sign new deals at the meeting.
"They have a tremendous opportunity to do something dynamic," said the coach who has taken them to the Grey Cup game all three years he has been in Montreal. "I asked them to look at it from a dynamic that has nothing to do with economics - what the value will be other than in dollars and cents."
Like last year, there are questions on whether Trestman will be back. It seems every time a head coaching job opens up in the NFL or a major U.S. university, his name is mentioned. Last month, it was the Minnesota Vikings and this week it is the University of Miami, where he earned a degree and won an Orange Bowl in 1983 as quarterbacks coach.
"The only comment I have is that when teams have success they talk about coaches," said Trestman, who signed a contract extension this season. "I'd rather not pay any attention to it. Hearing about it is great, but I want to go to the parade, celebrate, get in my car, go back home [to North Carolina] walk the dogs and relax for a few months."
One whose career is in doubt is safety Mathieu Proulx, who missed the Grey Cup game after he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and miniscus as well as a deep bruise in the East Division final. His recovery time is six to nine months and he may decide to quit and pursue his law career.
"If I come back it's going to be hard work, but when you see this," he said with a nod toward the Grey Cup sitting in the team locker room, "you see how much it's worth it."
The Alouettes were in their eighth Grey Cup game since 2000 but they were 1-5 in championship games before posting close wins over Saskatchewan the past two years.
"Last year it felt like the first one [in 2002]because we'd lost so many, but this year was a great accomplishment," Calvillo said. "Back-to-back, that is so rare."
The Canadian Press