No more ‘pity party’: Stanley Bryant done talking about Bombers’ Grey Cup loss

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Stanley Bryant was the first player out of the Bombers’ locker room in Hamilton last November, slipping past the media in street clothes before a question could exit anyone’s lips.

At 37 years old, there was speculation that the painful Grey Cup loss, the team’s second in a row, could be the final game in a Hall of Fame career. Now staring down the start of his 14th CFL season, Bryant acknowledges that the result of that game weighed heavily on his decision to return.

“It was just devastating. It was one of those weird feelings, I felt like we should have won. I mean we all felt that way, but it was just one of those games that we shouldn’t have lost and we let get away,” he told the Winnipeg media this week.

“It kind of took a toll on me because I felt like if we won, we still would have been who we are and it would’ve made things a lot easier for me to decide if I wanted to come back or not. After I got out of my pity party, I decided that I still have a lot left in the tank so I wanted to come back.”

Bryant returns to a Bombers team that was able to retain some key pieces in free agency, namely running back Brady Oliveira and receiver Dalton Schoen. But they also suffered significant attrition, losing veterans like Jackson Jeffcoat, Rasheed Bailey, and Winston Rose, among others.

Along the offensive line, Bryant will have a new player to his right following the departure of Geoff Gray. All-star right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick will also be wearing a different uniform, with the lack of his jovial demeanour already leaving a void at team offseason workouts. Still, the four-time CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman remains in the same left tackle spot he’s held since 2015.

“I guess I’m the last of a dying breed,” Bryant joked dryly.

Even with all the dead air left without Hardrick, the one thing that hasn’t been discussed in the building is that bitter defeat against Montreal. When the Alouettes secured the game-winning touchdown on a throw to Tyson Philpot with 13 seconds remaining, it left an open wound in the Bombers’ locker room. Nobody plans to pick at the scab.

“I haven’t really had a conversation with anyone about the Grey Cup. I mean, we may say some things here and there, but never really going deep into it — what happened, how we lost, why we lost,” Bryant explained. “I think a lot of guys have kind of brushed it to the side and will just deal with it how they dealt with it.”

Winnipeg has lost a championship game before, another all-time finish versus the Toronto Argonauts just a year previous, but onlookers noted a tone shift after this latest defeat. The dynasty status that the team believes it has earned cannot be sealed before they’ve hoisted the trophy for a third time and the window is rapidly closing for core veterans like Bryant.

Nowadays, the growing consensus is that type of raw emotion is better shared and processed than it is bottled up deep inside. Still, the Bombers have no plans for an offseason sharing circle to work through their pain.

“I don’t think it needs to happen, not as a group,” Bryant insisted. “Everyone should handle their things how they want to handle it. I handled it my way. I’m sure Zach (Collaros), Paddy (Neufeld), all those guys are going handle it how they need to handle it.”

“I don’t think we need to have a come together as a team. We know what happened last year. We know we didn’t succeed. We failed. We’re just like every other team that didn’t go to the playoffs. We didn’t win a Grey Cup, we just got a little further. But I think each guy knows what to do when they come into this building this year, knowing that we’ve got to get there but we need to win.”

That’s the mission every year, but never more so than now for Bryant. Avenging last season may not be the only reason he’s back, but there is no use denying that he may have opted for a new career path had Philpot dropped that pivotal pass.

“It’s a possibility. But things happen for a reason, so I guess it wasn’t my time yet,” he acknowledged.

“I’m not going to say unfinished business, just things that need to be handled.”

The Bombers will get their first chance to work through their emotions publicly when they host the Alouettes in the 2024 season opener on Thursday, June 6.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.