Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea racked up a total of 30 sacks on unsuspecting quarterbacks during his 16-year Hall of Fame career as one of the greatest Canadian-born linebackers in the history of the CFL.
But the veteran field leader of the defending Grey Cup champs admitted he was the one unprepared when the league officially announced Monday that the 2020 season would be cancelled.
Read more: CFL 2020 season officially cancelled
Speaking to media members outside IG Field on Wednesday morning, O’Shea said he went into this week brimming with optimism that Winnipeg would serve as the league’s hub city for a shortened six-game schedule, and that the Blue Bombers would have a chance to defend their Grey Cup title.
“It was extremely easy to be hopeful, feeding off the positivity that (Bombers president and CEO Wade Miller) had, and the amount of work that Wade and his staff and (director of health performance and head athletic trainer) Al Couture put in,” said O’Shea, “putting a plan together for the government to make Winnipeg a safe place to have a bubble and have a season.”
O’Shea, who ranks third on the Blue Bombers’ all-time coaching wins list, says even though he told some friends that not having a season was a possibility and that he was aware there were some not-so-hopeful indicators from the federal government, he was still gobsmacked by the finality of what transpired on Monday.
“The announcement came and it was like I was completely blindsided, which sounds very odd to say because you go through an off-season where you’re paying attention and listening. But we really thought we had it nailed.
“So when I found out for sure that it was cancelled, it was extremely sad — one of the saddest days I’ve had in a long, long time.”
O’Shea said the shock didn’t linger for long before he did what most football players do when they get smacked to the turf: get back up, dust themselves off and get ready for the next play — which, in this case, is the 2021 season.
And while there has been plenty of blame directed towards CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie by players and media alike, O’Shea is not in the camp questioning the strategy of the man in charge.
“I believe that they worked extremely hard to get this done, too, at their level. Wade (Miller) was tasked with this portion of a return-to-play plan, and he attacked it like he attacks everything else,” O’Shea said when asked if he was disappointed with how the situation was handled.
“Randy and his staff at the CFL were tasked with a different set of tasks to get things done and they attacked it, too, with a ton of energy and a ton of time spent. I’ve got nothing to say that would be negative.”
O’Shea says the Blue Bombers organization, the league office and the CFL Players’ Association did everything they could to be part of a solution, but in the end, it didn’t work out.
So now it’s a long haul till next spring, considering the break began in late November. And O’Shea admits the mental strain in dealing with the abnormal is real.
“There’s a part of it that says you gotta take care of yourself a little bit in terms of this letdown. It’s been a long time where you’re not coming to work every day.”
There’s also the financial hardship for many players who last cashed a paycheque in November. The Blue Bombers players were able to soften the blow with their Grey Cup bonuses, but that certainly won’t be enough to pay the bills for an 18-month stretch.
As for O’Shea, who was not wearing his Grey Cup ring, he doesn’t expect to be idle for long.
“We’ll be challenged with a new set of tasks very shortly when the CFL and the PA (players’ association) come together and get some answers. Those will come back to us and we’ll have to sort it out and figure it out on a team-by-team level. In very short order we’ll be busting our hump again to make it work.”
Unfortunately, that won’t happen in time for the Blue Bombers to defend their Grey Cup title — something every player and staff member of the Winnipeg Football Club was looking forward to, not to mention the fans.
But O’Shea, ever the optimist, believes there will be a reward in 2021. And he’s not concerned about whether that will be a season played out in an empty stadium.
“I’ve been around the league long enough, and as I said to the players, I’ve seen a lot of obstacles be put in front of us, and I’ve always seen us manage to bust through them. Although this is an obstacle we’ve never seen, I believe the outcome will be the same.”