Former linebacker O’Shea honoured to be headed to Canadian Football Hall of Fame

Mike O’Shea would have rather been preparing for a game Tuesday than talking about himself.

But with his Winnipeg Blue Bombers on a bye week and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame poised to welcome him later this week, O’Shea had no choice but to suck it up.

“This is not enjoyable,” the 46-year-old Blue Bombers head coach told a conference call. “Playing football was extremely enjoyable, coaching is extremely enjoyable.

“The rest of it is, you know, not at the top of my list.”

O’Shea will be enshrined Thursday in Hamilton, joining running back Kelvin Anderson, quarterback Anthony Calvillo and receiver Geroy Simon in the player category. Former Calgary Stampeders president Stan Schwartz and longtime Saskatchewan Huskies coach Brian Towriss will be inducted as builders.

Despite his discomfort, O’Shea called the honour “pretty neat.”

“Given the history of the league and what I believe the CFL means to Canada … it’s more than humbling,” said the North Bay, Ont., native. “I think it’s pretty cool because I genuinely love this league and country and to be part of this and of this history is pretty special.”

The six-foot-three, 228-pound linebacker left his mark on the league, capturing top rookie honours in 1993 with Hamilton and later winning three Grey Cups with Toronto (1996-97, 2004) as a player and another as an assistant coach (2012).

O’Shea was named the CFL’s top Canadian in 1999 and holds the league record for most regular-season games played by a defensive player (271). He ranks second in all-time tackles (1,151) and is tops among Canadian-born players.

O’Shea finished his career with the second-most games played as an Argo with 205 and in 2015 was named to the franchise’s all-time team. But his CFL tenure began inauspiciously as moments after the Edmonton Eskimos selected O’Shea fourth overall in the ‘93 CFL draft, they dealt him as part of package to Hamilton for quarterback Damon Allen.

Allen lead Edmonton to the ‘93 Grey Cup title while O’Shea was able to embark on his illustrious pro career much closer to home.

“There’s not even a split second where you can think, ‘Oh Edmonton drafted me, awesome. I can’t wait to play in Edmonton,’ and then all of a sudden you’re in Hamilton,” O’Shea said. “The opportunity is unbelievable, you’re just so grateful for it.

“My parents, my family, my buddies, I had a lot of people attend a lot of games. That’s extremely important.”

O’Shea played three seasons with Hamilton before signing with the Detroit Lions. After being released by the NFL club, O’Shea went to Toronto instead of returning to the Ticats.

“The conversations with Hamilton at that time kind of went off the rails,” O’Shea said. “To this day I believe if somebody can play their entire career with one team, that’s pretty special.

“It didn’t happen for me but it would’ve been neat to do that.”

Toronto traded O’Shea back to Hamilton in 2000 but he re-signed with the Argos the following season and helped them capture the Grey Cup in 2004.

Four years later, Toronto released O’Shea four years later. The club wanted the star linebacker to retire but O’Shea wasn’t interested.

“If you retire you don’t have the option of going anywhere else,” he said. “I didn’t think that was a smart business decision.

“At that point it’s just business … they released me and that’s fine.”

Despite never playing again, O’Shea has never formally signed retirement papers.

“I don’t know that any player needs to retire,” he said. “There’s certain situations, I’m sure, each player goes through (but) the majority of us just get cut.

“That (coming back to play) will never happen. I didn’t file because I had a belief that’s not what you need to do.”

O’Shea joined the coach ranks in 2010 as Toronto’s special teams coach. He was hired by the Bombers in 2013.

“I enjoy coming to work every single day, it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “The people around here make it pretty easy to come to work every day.”

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