With season over, Ticats struggle to say goodbye

Alex Green hates goodbyes. He’s horrible at them, and these ones were harder than most.

“It’s a different bunch here, that’s why, ” he said.

Green isn’t the only one who feels this way. For the running back and his teammates, the 2018 Hamilton Tiger-Cats were more than a team. They were family. So, after going out in a lopsided beat-down by the Ottawa Redblacks in the CFL’s East final, none of them were ready to empty their lockers on Tuesday.

None of them were ready to say goodbye. “You’ve been through so much together and to come up short, it sucks, ” he added. “It just sucks. I don’t know what else to say. It’s a bad feeling and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

Green knows – they all know – this season was a missed opportunity. In football, there are some things you can control, like personnel and schemes, and others, like chemistry and camaraderie, you can’t. They grow organically and are important, necessary even, for success.

But they’re not sufficient, as the Tiger-Cats showed in Ottawa on Sunday. Not to mention in the 10 losses preceding that.

“I still believe we had the chemistry and the things we needed, ” coach June Jones said at the year-end news conference at Tim Hortons Field. “Some days you’ve got to outscore people and some days you’ve got to play defence, and we needed to score with them.”

If the Tiger-Cats had done that, he believes, what they had in the locker-room would have carried them to the win. “But we didn’t match them, ” he said. And the fact that he and his players had high expectations makes it hurt a little bit more.

“I’m not totally over it, ” said wide receiver Luke Tasker. “I don’t feel great right now. It’s just tough to say bye to this team today and have guys go home for the off-season and sort of turn the page on this year. … I’m not quite there yet. I’m just trying to enjoy my teammates and coaches for another day.”

Tasker, who agreed to a two-year deal with the Tiger-Cats in February, will be back in 2019, but that isn’t the case for at least some of his teammates. With 34 impending free agents, the Tiger-Cats have difficult decisions to make in the months ahead about who to fight for and who, potentially, to let go.

Keeping the team’s core together would be nice. “In a perfect world, we would love that, ” said linebacker Larry Dean. It’s not going to happen, though.

“It seems like you want to re-sign everybody, but contracts go up and guys have good years and you get paid more, so it will never be the same, ” said Tasker. “That’s just how it goes.”

Among the potential free agents Jones is eager to hold on to are Dean, recently named the top defensive player in the East, and fellow linebacker Simoni Lawrence. On Tuesday, both mentioned the camaraderie and unique bond shared by this year’s Tiger-Cats – in Lawrence’s words, there was a “certain type of culture here where it wasn’t just smoke and mirrors.”

“It was real. You could feel it, ” he added. “You know, it’s easy, like, to fake-like teammates, but I feel like everybody genuinely liked each other here.”

They did, Tasker agreed. They pulled together at the end and it felt like they had a chance. But winning, well, that’s tough. “And it’s not always the team who’s closest that comes out on top.”

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