Stamps ride off into sunset

IAN BUSBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

Locker-room cleanout has long been the worst day of the season for the Calgary Stampeders, but this one was quite different.

As the Grey Cup champions packed up their stuff and said goodbyes heading into the off-season, most of them didn't want to leave.

This group will never be together in this capacity, but most players were experiencing joy instead of sorrow.

"Usually, this day is sad, but this team will never change in my mind," said veteran centre Rob Lazeo, who won his first title Sunday as the Stamps beat the Montreal Alouettes 22-14.

"I'll never forget these guys or these moments."

Although some people will leave the organization, the Stamps found out yesterday they will be keeping their offensive co-ordinator.

George Cortez pulled himself out of the running for the head-coaching job with the Toronto Argonauts.

Cortez will return to run the Stamps offence for a third straight season. He spent eight seasons with the Stamps, where he worked on a staff with now-head coach John Hufnagel in the 1990s.

"Obviously, this is my home away from home," Cortez said.

"When the players asked me when I'm going home, I said I already was home. I have a house in Calgary.

"We've been here a long time. It's a good situation here with John, and it will take a great situation to get me out of here."

The Stamps also made Mike Labinjo's contract extension official, meaning the team's nominee for most outstanding Canadian will be back for at least two more years.

"It's been quite the season and quite the ride," said Labinjo, who elevated his game in the playoffs.

"I wouldn't have predicted this to happen, especially the final two games of the year. I've cherished every moment, and I'm looking forward to 2009."

There are some pending free agents about to hit the market Feb. 15. That groups includes linebacker Dwaine Carpenter, defensive tackle Eddie Freeman, punter Burke Dales and returner/receiver/defensive back Markus Howell.

Howell was soaking up the atmosphere yesterday, carrying around a Grey Cup game ball he was having teammates sign. He would like to be back, but will take some time to decide.

One player was headed to free agency but put his name on a contract: Canadian linebacker Marc Calixte, who has been with the team since 2003.

A handful of others -- kicker Sandro DeAngelis, defensive back Brandon Browner and receiver Teyo Johnson -- are entering their options years and will give the NFL a shot.

As the rest of the players packed up their lockers, Grey Cup MVP Henry Burris was still lingering, chatting with whoever was there.

It was almost like he didn't want the ride to end, despite wearing the smile that has made him famous.

"It's still bittersweet because you hate to see such a fun time come to an end," Burris said.

"This was a fun locker-room all year. It was a fun season, so for it to end it this way was the best that could possibly happen. To finally be able to experience this, you look back and say all the bitter times were worth it, but the guys had to sacrifice.

"We know some guys won't be back ... but the bottom line is we went out this year in a special way."


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