It is known throughout the CFL as Green Garbage Bag Day, when players gather in the locker room one last time to pack their personal belongings before they go their separate ways.
The idea is to delay it as long as possible, but that privilege belongs to teams that make the playoffs. For the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who finished the season with a 5-13 record, Green Garbage Day arrived sooner rather than later.
"It's definitely a different feeling," said quarterback Darian Durant, who had guided Saskatchewan to back-to-back appearances in the Grey Cup. "I'm disappointed, of course. But you have to be able to take the bad with the good.
"I look at it as a learning experience. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. You learn how to handle this stuff. You learn to be a professional in good times and bad."
Green Garbage Bag Day
This Green Garbage Bag Day was especially significant to the Roughriders players and coaches because change is in the air.
To begin with, Ken Miller has resigned as head coach and vice-president of football operations. He will be leaving the organization at the end of December to return to his home in North Carolina.
Asked where the season went off the rails for the Roughriders this year, Miller cited an "absolutely devastating" 42-5 loss to the visiting B.C. Lions in late September.
At that point, it appeared as though the Riders might actually recover from a crippling 1-7 start under rookie head coach Greg Marshall.
Marshall and offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry had been fired in mid-August and replaced by Miller. The Riders responded to that personnel change with a three-game winning streak, but then came the loss to the Lions and, in Miller's opinion, Saskatchewan was not the same team after that.
"It became a confidence issue," he said.
Durant pointed to the absence of slotback Andy Fantuz, who was away for the first half of the season — hoping to land a spot with the NFL's Chicago Bears — and then missed virtually all of the second half because of an ankle injury.
"Take away your best offensive weapon," Durant said, "and you're going to have a dropoff."
Big decisions ahead
Along with hiring a new head coach, and perhaps adding and deleting assistants, general manager Brendan Taman must sign the free-agent players to new contracts, the most notable being Fantuz.
Beyond that, there are the pending retirements of three veterans — slotback Jason Clermont, offensive lineman Gene Makowksy, and linebacker Barrin Simpson.
"I'll tell you, there are a lot of questions," Miller said. "Right now, there's probably more questions than there has been in a long time."
Durant would like to see the team hire a quarterbacks coach who has played the position himself. But he cautioned against getting carried away and making sweeping changes.
"Good teams keep the nucleus together and build from there," Durant said, adding that he personally has not lost confidence in either the team or in himself.
"I lost no confidence at all, none whatsoever. This was just one of those years," Durant said, adding that he is looking forward to restoring the Roughriders to a Grey Cup contender next season.
"This is still the best place to play football in the CFL."
Simpson has not yet decided whether he will, in fact, file retirement papers with the league office.
For Makowsky, it could well depend on the results of Monday's provincial election and how he fares as a candidate for the Saskatchewan Party in his Regina riding.
Clermont, who played three seasons with the Riders after enjoying the best years of his career with the Lions, said he is "95 per cent" certain he will retire from football and devote himself full time to selling real estate.
The opportunity to play football in his home town at four levels — high school, junior, university, and professional — has been "a dream come true," Clermont said.
"Years ago I could have walked away proudly," he added. "I consider myself fortunate to have been able to complete my career in Saskatchewan."
Receivers Weston Dressler and Chris Getzlaf expressed mixed emotions about outstanding individual accomplishments in a season that did not go well for the team itself.
Miller said he hopes every player in the locker room finds something to feel proud of even in this most dismal of seasons.
He himself will be leaving the team, the city and the province with no reservations and no regrets.
"The five years I had here were great," Miller said. "It's great to work in any environment where what you do means so much to so many people."