The Ottawa Redblacks were still feeling the sting of losing the Grey Cup in just their second season, but as players prepared to go their separate ways there was talk of using the loss as motivation to come back even stronger next year.
"Yes, everybody is a little bit disappointed right now, but we'll get over it and you've got to come back hungry and ready to go," said head coach Rick Campbell. "We set the bar higher around here, which is a good thing, and you've got to keep that hunger going into next year."
After going 2-16 in its inaugural season the Redblacks stunned many this past year going 12-6 to finish first in the East Division, to then winning the East Championship to advance to Sunday's Grey Cup where they lost 26-20 to the Edmonton Eskimos.
To see it all come to an end in a game that was theirs for the taking left many players feeling wounded both emotionally and physically.
"This one's going to hurt for a long time," said veteran quarterback Henry Burris. "You go through so much just to try to build something special to get yourself into the big game and now you've got to go back through the entire journey and it's one of those things where you're never guaranteed another opportunity."
The 40-year-old Burris has one year remaining on his contract, but says ideally he would like to play for at least two more seasons. The Redblacks are hoping to host the Grey Cup in 2017 as part of Canada's 150th anniversary and Burris wants to help the Redblacks be part of that game.
Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins says at this point he prefers to take things one year at a time regarding Burris's future, but it's clear the team has full confidence in him for next year.
"You saw how he finished this year, he sure looks like a guy that's not slowing down," said Campbell. "He doesn't look like a 40-year-old guy to me. He was a big reason why we had success this year. As long as he stays healthy and all that stuff he's definitely going to be a viable football player."
Desjardins will have a number of decisions to make in the off-season, as the Redblacks have several players facing free agency.
"We don't have to do as much going into next year so we'll just have to make smart decisions as opposed to knowing we need to target a bunch of guys at once which is kind of what we did last year," he said.
"I don't think we have a glaring weakness like we had last year, so we're going to be smart in everything we try to do in terms of finding other guys."
Some of the most prominent free agents include receiver Chris Williams, the third-leading receiver in the league with 1,214 yards, defensive back Jovon Johnson, defensive linemen Keith Shologan, Justin Capicciotti, Zack Evans and linebacker Damaso Munoz.
Williams said he would like to explore potential opportunities in the NFL, but should nothing arise would want to return to the Redblacks. Johnson, who became a fan favourite, also said his priority would be to remain with the Redblacks.
Johnson has been with the team since the start and says he wants to be a part of the group that brings a championship back to the nation's capital.
"Hopefully they believe in me enough to bring me back," said Johnson. "I do know that it's a business and things happen. I'm at a point in my career where I just want to be happy; the money's not an issue. It's not a big deal to me. At the end of the day as long as I'm happy and I'm being paid what I feel I deserve I don't really care what that dollar is as long as we can come to a mutual agreement."
Desjardins will start some talks this month, but anticipates most dealings to take place in the new year.
Notes: Both Desjardins and Campbell are entering the final year of a three-year contract.