DENVER - With the Super Bowl behind them and a season of changes coming ahead, Denver Broncos players were somber as they cleaned up their lockers at Dove Valley on Tuesday.
"When you get this far, and for so long, you build up more relationships than you have in the past. I've been through several seasons and forget some of the guys I played with, but there's not a guy in this locker room I (will) forget," said cornerback Champ Bailey.
Bailey said he hasn't had the nerve to look at the tape of Sunday's catastrophic loss against the Seattle Seahawks.
"I just don't want to look at it. It still hurts a little bit," Bailey said.
"Our guys worked so hard and to have it end like that was disappointing," said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, as he packed up his things.
"There's a lot of positive we can take out of this season," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "We got a taste of the Super Bowl. We didn't finish quite how we wanted to. We know what it takes to get there and now we know what it takes to win it."
It is the last time the same group of football players will be in the same locker room -- a fact that made the day even more poignant.
"You never get the same group again. That's the way the NFL works. You'll never be in the same locker room with the same guys," said tight end Jacob Tamme. "...It's not the most fun day. It's really one of the least fun days, especially given the way that it ended. The guys you build a camaraderie with, you keep in touch with."
"The team will never be the same. Most of the guys will stick around. There will be new coaches, new players when we come back in April," Knighton said.
Offensive lineman Zane Beadles is one of several players who will be a free agent.
"I hope to be back. This is the business side of football. I love the city of Denver, I love the organization but we'll see what happens," Beadles said.
"This day… being the last time you see this same locker room, it's tough," wide receiver Eric Decker said. "What we've been through this year, as far as facing adversity, the ups and downs throughout the year and just the ups and downs of life in general, you build a brotherhood, you build a relationship throughout and to know it's not going to be the same next year … "
Decker will also be a free agent.
"For me, I would love to come back. I don't know my future either, it makes it more real and you just appreciate, again, what this year has meant to all of us," Decker said. "This game is tough. There's a side of playing football and there's the business side … that's something I'll have to have a conversation with my representation. I want to do the best thing for my family and myself. This is an organization that any player wants to come to. They treat you first class. It's a winning organization. They have a culture here that's phenomenal. So I would love to play here, and unfortunately, that's something that isn't always in my control."
Players said they hope some time will allow them to reflect on a great season.
"We had a heck of a year. We had a really good group of guys in the locker room, lot of fun working with them," said tight end Jacob Tamme. "It's disappointing to kind of end the way we did just because of the fact it takes so much work to get there."
Vice president of Football Operations John Elway echoed those same sentiments in his last news conference of the season.
"The farther you get away from this, the less you concentrate on just that one game, the more you look at the full season and really what we did as a football team and really as an organization," Elway said. "And I'll tell you what, I'm very proud of that. There are some changes we've got to make and we’ll make those. But the thing is, we can use that as a game that, 'OK, we now know what it’s like to be there, now we’ve got to use the experience that we’ve been there but we’ve got to start with step one again and we'll start with the offseason program on April 21.
"Everybody that knows it comes in here and the people that we bring when it gets to 85-90 guys on the roster and John (Fox) re-addresses this team the first time and again it’s to get back and be World Champions," Elway said. "The goal has not changed and it will not change. We will use this as an experience that we went through, be disappointed that we didn’t play better, but the bottom line is this organization and what (Owner and CEO) Pat Bowlen wants from this organization — that has not changed and it will not change.
"The bottom line is we’re going to work as hard as we worked this year, if not harder, and continue to do that with the mindset as we want to be World Champions, and we’re going to do everything we can to get there," Elway underscored.