A sombre group of Calgary Stampeders returned to McMahon Stadium on Monday, a day after a 35-22 loss to the host Toronto Argonauts in the 100th Grey Cup.
Despite losing on the CFL's biggest stage, veteran receiver Nik Lewis remained optimistic about a 2012 season that saw the Stampeders overcome a slow start and knock off the defending Grey Cup champions in the West Division final.
"I felt like we did a great job this season," said Lewis, who had six catches for 100 yards against the Argos. "We just came up a little short, didn't play a really good game when we needed to."
Lewis was one of several players who talked to the assembled media members in the McMahon Stadium parking lot on Monday, while others like quarterback Kevin Glenn and running back Jon Cornish declined to speak.
Glenn and Cornish instead said that they would address the media on Tuesday morning when the Stamps return to clean out their lockers.
Lewis said that he's proud that the Stamps fought their way to the Grey Cup game despite an unstable roster that saw 72 different players suit up due to a rash of injuries.
"If the 72 guys that suited up are the 72 guys at training camp, it's going to be a pretty competitive training camp," Lewis said.
'We didn't win a Grey Cup, so that means I have to go and look what I can do to be better, look at my game and look at that game in the Grey Cup and see where I could have been better.' —Stampeders receiver Nik Lewis
Lewis had a career best 100 catches this past season for 1,241 yards. He has surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in each of his nine seasons.
"That's my goal every year is to come out and be better," Lewis said. "We didn't win a Grey Cup, so that means I have to go and look what I can do to be better, look at my game and look at that game in the Grey Cup and see where I could have been better."
Defensive back Keon Raymond said he was still feeling the effects of the stinging loss to the Argos on Sunday.
"It's just been tough so far," Raymond said. "This is still a wound that's kind of fresh. My hat's off to Toronto. They played a good game. They played a better game than we did."
Like Lewis, Raymond also commended the resiliency of the Stamps this year.
"I'm proud of the fact that the guys depended on each other week in and week out," Raymond said. "It didn't end the way we wanted to, but I think guys appreciated the relationships that we had this year, that we bonded."
Looking ahead to next season, Raymond said that the Stamps should be able to contend for the Grey Cup again.
"We've got a good core group of guys here and I think we definitely have something to build on," he said.
A day after compiling 283 all-purpose yards against the Argos, kick returner/receiver Larry Taylor said he was disappointed to return to Calgary empty handed.
'Able to fight'
"We were able to fight and just keep ourselves in the game," Taylor said. "Unfortunately it didn't play out for us as we would have liked it to."
Taylor had a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter negated due to a holding penalty against Raymond.
"We picked the wrong game to be on the biggest stage and not play our best game," Taylor said. "The other 11 guys did an amazing job with blocking and creating lanes for me and giving me the opportunity to show my God-given talents."
Now a free agent, Taylor said he would definitely consider returning to play for the Stamps.
"I love Calgary," he said. "I've only been on two teams in Montreal and here. We have a good team here. This is a great organization. This is the place I'd like to be at. Once the time is right, when it's time to make that decision, I'll do what's best for me and my family at the end of the day."
Defensive lineman Corey Mace said that the season definitely took its toll on him, both mentally and physically.
"It's times like this when you come up on the short end of the stick, it's a tough pill to swallow," said Mace, who's also a free agent. "Now it's just let the cards fall where they may.
"I'm a Calgarian. I've been staying here this past year. I plan to stay here this off-season. Hopefully I could wear that horse on the side of the helmet, but all that's to be seen."