THE CANADIAN PRESS
HAMILTON, Ont. -- Avon Cobourne can't imagine a Grey Cup being played without him.
But that's the reality the Hamilton Tiger-Cats running back was coming to grips with after falling short of the CFL's championship game for just the second time in six years.
"I'm lost right now, I'll be honest with you," Cobourne said Tuesday as the Ticats cleaned out their lockers at Ivor Wynne Stadium. "I'm not used to this ... It's crazy because I feel like the Grey Cup's not going to happen if I'm not in it, to be honest. But the show goes on and it's hard to deal with, to be honest with you."
After joining the Montreal Alouettes in 2006, the 32-year-old won two Grey Cup rings and one game MVP while also losing two championships. The only time he hadn't played in the Grey Cup during his CFL tenure was 2007 -- until now, his first season with the Ticats.
The Ticats knocked off the Als in dramatic overtime fashion with a 52-44 win in the Eastern semifinals, but lacked that offensive punch when needed in Sunday's 19-3 loss to Winnipeg in the East Final.
Cobourne carried the ball 202 times for 961 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season and was ranked third in the league with 1,420 combined yards. He was the most visibly displeased of all the Hamilton players who lined up to speak to the media on Tuesday.
He made it clear he wouldn't be watching the Grey Cup game.
The Ticats signed Cobourne last off-season hoping he would bring a winning attitude to a team that hadn't won a playoff game in 10 years. So when he was asked what changes needed to be made next year, he gave a straight answer: "A lot of changes have to be made. We need our players to focus more. We need our coaches to focus more. A lot of things need to be done. We need to grow a little more than we are right now."
Asked specifically if the team's move to a talented but youthful roster may have hindered progress -- most notably the trade of veteran receivers Arland Bruce to B.C. and Maurice Mann to Toronto -- he said the entire team, on both sides of the ball, shares the loss against Winnipeg.
But pure talent, he added, can't replace experience.
"You've got to go through it to get through it," said Cobourne, who has two years left on his contract. "It hurts to say it, but that's what you have to do sometimes. You have to go through things to know how it happens. Unfortunately, they couldn't learn by listening.
"It happens sometimes and it puts us where we are right now -- me talking to (the media) before the Grey Cup, and it has nothing to do with the Grey Cup."
Head coach Marcel Bellefeuille fielded questions about his future after the team failed to put together a winning season under him for the third straight year. He said it's business as usual unless he hears otherwise.
Bellefeuille thinks the semifinal win shows the team has made progress despite an 8-10 regular-season record.
"I think there is a great nucleus right now and a good young nucleus that can grow and play together for the next number of years," he said. "There's always going to be some changes. That's just attrition in the CFL. That's part of the process. But I don't think it's anything that has to be dictated, so continuity will probably be more of the flavour."
However, CFL all-star defensive end Justin Hickman and reliable kicker Justin Medlock both become free agents this year. Hickman, in particular, is interested in testing the NFL waters. Should he not crack a roster south of the border, he told reporters his first choice would be to return to Hamilton.
How the Ticats will deal with their quarterback situation has also been left up in the air, with both Kevin Glenn and Quinton Porter under contract through 2012. Once again, Hamilton used a platoon system where Glenn played the role of the veteran starter and backup Porter was inserted as necessary.
Porter was the pivot during short yardage situations, and as a result was tied for the league lead in rushing TDs with nine -- pretty much all of them on one-yard runs.
Both players agreed the set-up was not ideal, but quickly added they were willing to do what was best for the team.
"It's never an ideal situation because as a quarterback you want to be the guy that plays," said Glenn, who completed 307 of 488 pass attempts (62.9 per cent) for 3,963 yards, 19 TDs and 17 interceptions this season.
He said he's never seen a platoon system work successfully in professional football.
"When you go into a season from the beginning doing that, I don't think it's necessarily ideal because quarterbacks have to be in a rhythm," said Glenn.
But after three years on this team, the 11-year CFL veteran said Hamilton is going in the right direction after reaching the East Final.
"Every year you want to get better and I think we did something collectively as a team that we weren't able to do the past two years and that's an accomplishment in itself," he said. "I feel like it was an accomplishment, but I don't feel we, as a team, reached our ultimate goal and that was to win a Grey Cup.
"And individually everybody has to answer that question themselves."