Blue Bombers Mike O’Shea and Brad Fotty wait out the COVID-19 pandemic

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea gets a sports drink poured over him as his team defeats the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, November 24, 2019. The Blue Bombers are rewarding general manager Kyle Walters and head coach O'Shea for helping the team win the Grey Cup last month.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea gets a sports drink poured over him as his team defeats the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, November 24, 2019. The Blue Bombers are rewarding general manager Kyle Walters and head coach O'Shea for helping the team win the Grey Cup last month.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the rest of the CFL are playing the waiting game following the latest announcement by Commissioner Randy Ambrosie earlier today.  Grey Cup Week 2020 in Regina has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and if the season is able to start in early September, the host will be the surviving team with the best record.

As much as CFL players and coaches are anxious to get back to their normal lives, like almost everyone else, they’re doing their best to make the best of a difficult situation during the pandemic.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Cancellation of CFL season is ‘most likely scenario’, commissioner says

Tuesday Night on the 680 CJOB Sports Show, Blue Bombers Head Coach Mike O’Shea spoke about how odd it was to be at home rather than spending long hours at IG Field and in his office during what would have been Day Three of Training Camp. “You know you should be doing something else, and you should be involved in something that’s been a big part of your life for a long time,” O’Shea told co-hosts Bob “Knuckles” Irving and Christian Aumell.

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“You know there’s a huge difference there.”

“Sometimes in the morning, it’s a little hard to figure out what direction you’re going in, but you keep plugging away.”

The team’s long-time Equipment Manager Brad Fotty was also part of the conversation, and instead of being run off his feet with the myriad of tasks associated with the start of a season, he’s playing the role of teacher, janitor, principal, and referee for his daughters Madison and Brooklyn while his wife Sandra is busy with her job as a crisis manager at Klinic, handling the crush of COVID-19-related duties. “It has been an adventure, it’s something new and a learning process for everyone,” Fotty said, summing up his current situation.

“I’ve gained a new respect for teachers. They don’t paid enough, that’s for sure.”

READ MORE: Manitoba schools may not reopen by September, says school boards association president

O’Shea also appreciates the adjustment families of coaches and players are having to make with these “strangers” roaming around hallways and kitchens with playbooks in hand, with no one to teach practice drills to or bark out encouragement at. “Us coaches would be out of the house, out of people’s hair. So, I think it’s a big change for coaches and players’ families. You hope they see it as kind of nice, and a one-off, but I’m sure they want us all back to work too.”

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As for when anyone in the CFL will get to go back to work, nobody knows for sure. When Fotty is not supervising homeschooling assignments, he’s keeping a close tab on where everything stands with equipment orders that have been made, or will need to be made once there’s an indication the season will be starting. “Checking on orders… if they’ve been delivered or are on the way. Just keeping in contact with the league and other guys across the league [and] our major suppliers to find out where our stuff is and how they’re moving along with their process of fulfilling all our orders,” said the highly respected equipment manager who is going into his thirtieth season. “Anything from screws in the helmet to shoelaces, socks, game pants and jerseys, sideline clothing, players practice clothing, water bottles, practice gear, trunks that we ordered, travel bags.”
Supplied photo of Brad Fotty
Supplied photo of Brad Fotty.

Speaking of water bottles, there will be a whole new set of precautions for Fotty and the training staff to have to monitor going forward, be it this season or next. “We dress 46 guys and each guy has to have his own water bottle. With mouth guards, some guys have a problem where they can’t keep it in for too long and they start salivating from that. Guys get hit hard enough and it knocks the spit out of them. Quarterbacks are licking their fingers before they get the ball. Holders on field goals lick their fingers for a little more grip. So there’s saliva and fluids everywhere, all the time,” explained Fotty. “It will be a task to try and keep all that stuff under control. But it’s something that will eventually come, and we’ll just have to find a way to do it.”

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O’Shea was part of three Grey Cup championships as a player, and one as an assistant coach prior to adding a fifth career title to his resume –his first as a head coach — last November. And the celebration in Winnipeg that stretched into December and January is something he’ll never forget.  “That really was like nothing I’d been a part of, and I have a few of them, so that was very special. We — as the Bombers — can’t thank the fans of Winnipeg enough for everything they did for us.”

READ MORE: Grey Cup victory pays off for Winnipeg Football Club’s bottom line

Despite his nearly three decades of service to the Winnipeg Football Club, Fotty did not have the same kind of experience as his boss when it came to Grey Cup celebrations and acting “like you’ve been there before.” He’s the first to admit he was a bit like a duck-out-of-water back on Nov. 24 at McMahon Stadium in Calgary. “I still can’t sometimes believe it, because I’ve lost five before so I never knew what it felt like. And then having that feeling was just incredible.

“I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there in awe.”

There’s so much going on and so much you try to take in,” Fotty said.

Fotty counts his blessings that his wife and girls were there to celebrate his first Grey Cup win and rattles off moments in time — like O’Shea getting the Gatorade shower; the captain and longest-serving Bomber Jake Thomas hoisting the Cup; Andrew Harris making CFL history by becoming the first player to ever be named MVP and Outstanding Canadian in the Grey Cup game.

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“You miss stuff, but it’s nice to go back and re-watch it. You sit back now and you see a commercial of the game or someone wearing a Grey Cup Champion t-shirt … or the signs in people’s yards where it says Grey Cup Champions and you think back of all the great memories it took that long to experience,” Fotty said.

READ MORE: CFL looking at September start, Regina no longer guaranteed 2020 Grey Cup host

And it’s that legacy that provides the basis for O’Shea to believe that the Canadian Football League will persevere and emerge from this latest challenge. “I was reminded of this [Tuesday night] by my wife as we were coming back from a walk –they just awarded the 107th Grey Cup. So, if you think about the history of Canada and how the CFL has not only survived, but thrived through all sorts of adversity for over a century,” O’Shea said.

“This is another one of those events that people will look back and talk about.”

“I have a lot of faith in the CFL and in Canadians, and our ability to manage and get things done.”

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