By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press
He’s a six-time Grey Cup champion and member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But on Saturday, he’ll merely be known as Mike O’Shea from North Bay, Ont.
On Saturday, the city of North Bay will dedicate the football field at the Steve Omischl Sports Complex in honour of O’Shea, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach. But while it will be the latest in a long list of football accomplishments for the 51-year-old North Bay native, O’Shea said this one will feel different.
“I think there’s obviously a warmer feeling when there’s something to do with the city,” O’Shea said during a telephone interview Wednesday. “The other side of that is one of the best things about being from North Bay is you’re just Mike O’Shea from North Bay and not anything else.
“All of the people who had a hand in it understand where I came from, all of your buddies keep you grounded … you’re still just the kid who grew up in the neighbourhood, which is an awesome, awesome thing.”
The six-foot-three, 228-pound O’Shea had a stellar 16-year CFL career as a linebacker with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1993-95, 2000) and Toronto Argonauts (1996-99, 2001-08). He won three Grey Cups as an Argos player (1996-97, ’04) and in 271 regular-season games accumulated 1,151 tackles — the most ever by a Canadian and second in league history.
O’Shea was the CFL’s top rookie in 1993 and its outstanding Canadian six years later. An all-time Argo, O’Shea was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
Success has followed O’Shea into the coaching ranks. He added a fourth Grey Cup ring in 2012 as Toronto’s special-teams coordinator with Nos. five and six coming the past two seasons (2019, ’21) as Winnipeg’s head coach. O’Shea also captured the Annis Stukus Trophy as the CFL’s top coach last season.
Winnipeg is certainly contending for a third straight title. The Bombers (9-0) are the league’s lone remaining unbeaten team heading into their home contest Thursday against the Montreal Alouettes (2-6).
With one more regular-season win, Winnipeg will reach double-digit victories for a sixth straight year under O’Shea, who has a 76-55 regular-season record since becoming the Bombers head coach in 2013. But the franchise has a 64-31 regular-season mark since 2016 and is a perfect 5-0 in the playoffs since 2019.
Heady stuff, indeed, for someone who took up football in Grade 9 at Widdifield Secondary School.
“You don’t start from that first day of being scared to walk out on to the field to it playing out this way,” O’Shea said. “I think my first few years, I was just happy to survive and actually be on a team.
“My first year, I probably would’ve been feeling all right if they didn’t play me.”
Always humble, O’Shea downplayed his football achievements in comparison to other athletes from North Bay, including Omischl, the world-champion freestyle skier, and Jaimee Bull, a world-champion water skier.
“That’s the type of people coming out of North Bay,” O’Shea said. “There are some unbelievable athletes who’ve come out of North Bay … I’m down the list in terms of people who’ve gone on to do unbelievable things.
“I’m very proud to be from North Bay.”
O’Shea is also proud of Winnipeg’s success, which he credits to the team’s players and coaches.
“We’ve had really good continuity with our coaching staff but besides that, they’re very, very good coaches coaching very, very good players,” O’Shea said. “They (players) get it is the simple way to put it.
“They have a tremendous work capacity, they’re always working, they enjoy it and enjoy doing it together and they do it for the right reasons.”
Something O’Shea said he sees daily.
“The buzz around here in the morning before the day even starts is incredible,” he said. “You can just close your eyes and hear the conversations, the tape being watched, the football being discussed, the camaraderie.
“It’s a very easy and pleasurable place to be.”
Following Thursday’s game Winnipeg will have its first bye week, becoming the final CFL team to get some down time this season. But O’Shea said there’s been no discussion within the ranks about having to play week in and week out.
“If there were more games on the schedule before our first bye, it would just be, ‘That’s the schedule,'” O’Shea said. “It’s almost like when we talk about the grind, the look on their (players’) face is, ‘What grind?’
“They’ve seen the schedule, they knew what we were in for, we’ve asked them to manage it and they’re smart enough to manage it on their own. The coaches have been very flexible when I ask them to give the players more time. A one-day prep week has been what it’s been this week. Nothing knocks them off their process.”
And that includes Winnipeg having to continually play with a bull’s-eye firmly on its back.
“The core group of veterans has been doing that for years,” O’Shea said. “Winning isn’t new to them and they never try to convolute the issue by talking about a past win or a future game.
“They don’t talk about the record thus far, they’re so focused on this week that the rest of it is irrelevant. All of the wins this year haven’t been pretty, that’s for sure, but they’re all learning experiences. It’s not the outcomes, it’s not the overall records, it’s the lessons and making sure we’re learning as we go. I think that’s another good thing about this year, they’re continually learning and as much as they get it, they never act like they’ve got it.”