Dino Geremeia hasn't forgotten the first time he saw Doug Brown on the football field.
It was 1992 and the defensive line coach of the Simon Fraser University Clan couldn't help but notice the 6-foot-8, 215-pound future Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive tackle.
"He was just a tall, skinny kid. A bean pole would be a good description," Geremeia said this week from the British Columbia university, where he's now the linebackers coach.
"Obviously, the height was intriguing whenever you're coaching. You try to look past that he was awkward and very skinny and in that stage where he hadn't quite grown into his body.
"You're going, 'Well, I guess there's potential there.'"
Brown definitely lived up to that potential with a 15-year pro career – including 11 seasons with the Blue Bombers – that's ending with his retirement this month after either the CFL East Division final or Grey Cup.
"I honestly had expected last year was going to be it for me the way our team had finished at 4-14," said Brown, 37, who now is listed at 290 pounds and picked up his eighth CFL divisional all-star honour on Thursday.
But talks with Bombers general manager Joe Mack, head coach Paul LaPolice and defensive line coach Richard Harris (who died of a sudden heart attack in July) made him postpone his exit.
"The way I was able to play, I decided I should play one more," said Brown, who recorded 29 tackles and three quarterback sacks this season despite missing three games because of injury.
"All the advice I've ever got from guys that have played in this league, they say, 'Play as long as you want and then play one more.'"
It was the right decision as the Bombers turned the corner this year with a 10-8 record that's given Brown a chance to finally win the Grey Cup. That opportunity will come if Winnipeg triumphs in the Nov. 20 division final against the Montreal Alouettes or Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Brown's football career wasn't planned. Growing up in Port Moody, B.C., he excelled at rugby in high school and made Canada's under-19 squad.
His buddies coaxed him to try out for the football team in his senior year of high school, telling him they were going to win a provincial championship. They did.
Brown went to SFU on a half football scholarship, redshirting – practising but not playing so it didn't count toward his years of eligibility – in his first season.
In his second year, the coaches still weren't sure whether to keep him on defence or move him to the offensive line or tight-end spot since he was gaining weight.
"It was early in the year and we were doing 1-on-1 drills with the offensive line," Geremeia said. "One of the offensive linemen either took a cheap shot at him or an extra shot and they ended up fighting. Doug ended up doing very well."
That incident convinced Geremeia.
"I thought at the time: He's going to stay here. He's a defensive lineman," the coach said. "He had that aggressiveness and chip on his shoulder when he put the pads on and that was kind of the first real indication that he had the passion to play defence."
Brown's performance drew NFL scouts and led him to become the first SFU grad to crack an NFL roster when he signed with the Buffalo Bills in 1997.
His first season with the Bills was spent on the practice roster. He then moved to the Washington Redskins, playing 10 games in each of the next two seasons. He broke his foot in the 2000 training camp and spent the season recovering.
In 2001, he joined the CFL and Bombers and has put together a stellar career that's
included the most outstanding Canadian award in 2001 – runner-up in 2006 and 2007 – and runner-up for the 2008 outstanding defensive player award.
LaPolice said Brown still has the skills to play, but the decision to retire should be left to the player.
"He's a great example of hard work and leadership so I think that's what guys are going to miss," he said.
Brown will miss the camaraderie with teammates and coaches and hopes fans will remember him fondly.
"I would just hope that they would think that I was a player who just tried to maximize my abilities on the field," he said.
"I never left anything in the tank or in reserve. I was a real lunch-box guy that did his best during the season and in the offseason to make sure I got the most out of what I had."