VANCOUVER -- The end was too much to bear for Doug Brown.
"It's too fast ...," said the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive lineman of an 11-year career that ended with Sunday's 34-23 loss to the B.C. Lions in the Grey Cup.
Then the tears started flowing and Brown buried his head in his hands as he sat in his stall in a quiet Winnipeg dressing room.
Try as he did, Brown could not continue to answer questions, which he did eloquently before he broke down. After the reporters left, Brown stood up in his stall and covered his head in his arms, lamenting a standout CFL career that ended without a Grey Cup.
"I'm just kind of numb right now, man," said Brown when he was still able to talk. "It's hard to come to terms with the finality of the situation. It doesn't seem real."
Brown had announced long before the game that the 2011 campaign would be the final one of his career. He had thought about quitting after the 2010 season, when the Bombers finished with a 4-14 record.
But he decided that he could still play, looking forward to bigger and better things. The 37-year-old New Westminster, B.C., native was hopeful that the Bombers could go from worst to first overall after they finished in top spot in the East Division and ousted two-time defending Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouette in the East Final.
Which made Sunday's resounding loss even tougher to take.
"It's difficult, because the guys in this room came so far, and it just wasn't meant to be today," said Brown. "I thought we were going to pull off an incredible comeback, but it was too little too late. You can't let a team like B.C. get out in front of you like that."
Brown likened his club to a boxer that tried but couldn't get up off the canvas after being knocked out.
"We had our share of chances but, (with) B.C. you've gotta trade punches with them," said Brown. "We weren't breaking. We were bending. But you have to be able to respond -- and we weren't able to today."
In addition to playing 11 seasons in the CFL, Brown spent three campaigns in the NFL after completing four seasons at Simon Fraser University in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. He spent the 1997 season on the Buffalo Bills practice roster and then played 10 games in each of two seasons with Washington but missed the 2000 season with a foot injury.
The Redskins sought to re-sign him, but in 2001 he decided to join Winnipeg after the Blue Bombers acquired his rights in a trade from Calgary, which drafted him fifth overall in the 2001 CFL draft.
His CFL accomplishments include the most outstanding Canadian award in 2001, runner-up in 2006 and 2007 and runner-up for the 2008 outstanding defensive player award. But none of them mattered Sunday.
"I'm certainly going to miss him," said Winnipeg coach Paul LaPolice. "Like I said before, he's going to be very hard to replace. Certainly, he's going to be a Hall of Famer, and it's unfortunate that they couldn't get him a Grey Cup in the last one."
But offensive lineman Glen January figured his close friend was better off by staying one more season and going out the way he did rather than calling it quits after the dismal 2010 season.
"Obviously, he's feeling a wide range of emotions," said January. "He's got a bright future ahead of him, and I know he'll be successful. But right now, the next 24 hours are going to be pretty painful for him."
A media career is one possibility for Brown. He has his own local weekly newspaper column and radio show. He also has some sales and marketing and motivational-speaking experience, and owns properties, but isn't sure what his next career will be.
"He's done a whole lot for this team," said January. "He's done a ton of stuff for this community. He's a leader on and off the field. He's a person that I strive to emulate in my professional career, and it's unfortunate that he lost this way.
"But at the same time, brighter days are ahead for him."