The truth can be told now.
Doug Brown, arguably the face of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers the last decade, was not only staring retirement straight in the face, he’d actually scribbled down her phone number and was starting to buy her drinks.
It was at the end of last season, probably the most discouraging of Brown’s nine in blue and gold, when the big man was flirting with the idea of pulling the plug.
“Yeah, if certain circumstances (existed), I might have retired this year,” Brown told the Sun Tuesday. “I definitely thought about it at the end of the season, longer and harder than I ever have before.”
Without getting into the gory details, let’s just say that if the Bombers hadn’t changed regimes, Brown would likely be preening himself for a spot in the team’s hall of fame, instead of working his tail off for a spot on its D-line.
So the moment the organization brought in GM Joe Mack and head coach Paul LaPolice, he got a new lease on life.
You may have noticed Mack’s master plan includes youth. Just take a look at some of the bodies in his rearview mirror: Fred Perry (35), Gavin and Lenny Walls (both 30), Siddeeq Shabazz (29), Michael Bishop (33) and Troy Westwood (43).
At the same time, the first-year GM has injected a host of 20-somethings into his roster, while talking about salary caps and saving money.
So what does it feel like to be a highly paid, 35-year-old on a team that’s going younger and cheaper?
“That’s always the underlying philosophy in the business of professional football,” Brown said. “That’s why there’s such attrition, why NFL careers are three and a half years long and they call it Not For Long. It’s such a meat grinder, you always are preparing for the future of your club.
“I’d be naive to think I’m the exception to the rule.”
Of course, Brown is 300 pounds of insecurity at the best of times, always assuming there’s somebody out for his job.
“I’ve always been an insecure football player. Even in years when I haven’t needed to be. I always walk around thinking everybody is better than me and I need to work that much harder.”
The day will come, though, when hard work won’t be enough, and Brown knows it.
Eventually, a coach will notice he’s not getting off the line as quickly, not dominating his opponent the way he used to.
Actually, Brown plans to notice first.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to be one of those guys that’s in denial,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be self aware and I’ll be able to leave with the respect, hopefully, I’ve garnered.”
Major injuries, and he knocks on wood as he says it, would also tell him he’s starting to break down. He’s been lucky so far.
“They’ve got to get rid of you before you fall apart on them,” he said. “I just feel like to this point I haven’t showed any of those warning signs.”
In his meetings with LaPolice, Brown says the subject of his shelf life never came up. The coach just told him not to take his foot off the gas, to keep up the same almost fanatical fitness regimen he’s become known for.
So Brown enters his 14th season in pro football like he entered his 11th, 12th and 13th — taking it one year at a time.
Ask how he envisions it ending, and he’ll mention, like Milt Stegall before him, winning the championship that’s eluded him.
“But because that was Milt’s line, I just want to give it one more good run, in terms of being in contention,” Brown said. “That’s so much fun. One more season like that, regardless of what it ends up with, would be a good way to go out.”