Almost a year ago, old friends Mike O’Shea and Orlondo Steinauer met on the podium for a Grey Cup week media conference as the leaders of teams about to clash in the big game.
On Wednesday, O’Shea and Steinauer had the company of their former boss Scott Milanovich on a league-sponsored conference call when the conversation turned to memories of the last CFL game played.
"The week was pretty damn good till the game...," said Steinauer, whose Hamilton Tiger-Cats were drubbed 33-12 by O’Shea’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Calgary’s McMahon Stadium.
A season lost to the COVID-19 pandemic had come and gone and with the 2021 season still very much in doubt, men like Steinauer and O’Shea are left to pick up the pieces.
"It’s just different," said Steinauer. "I don’t even know how to feel. That’s the most honest answer I can give. I’ve accepted that it is what it is. It’s something I’ve never been a part of, never envisioned it like this. So emotions are like a roller-coaster — high and low."
A return to football can’t come soon enough for O’Shea, who is due to start his seventh season in charge of the Bombers next spring.
"It feels longer than that," said O’Shea of the year-long layoff. "As Orlando said, we’re past and moving forward. Like there’s only so many questions you can answer about what have you been doing and what’s going on... Let’s get some positivity generated here and let’s move forward and let’s get a season underway."
All three coaches — Milanovich was lured away from a staff position with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars to replace Jason Maas as head coach in Edmonton — have come to terms with the loss.
"There’s the days you wake up and you’re just you’re so frustrated or disappointed that you’re not working with your players and building on the field," said O’Shea. "That happens too, that’s all just the real life emotion of where we’re at. But of course, you find new things to do and are beneficial."
O’Shea said the football business grinds on.
What about player acquisitions and getting the Bombers to adhere to the league’s management salary cap, cuts which have already cost some of the league’s assistant coaches their jobs? Steinhauer is expecting adjustments to his staff while Milanovich expects to lose one or two assistants.
"The process of finding players is never-ending," said O’Shea. "...In terms of signing players, that’s a fair question for the GM.
"I know that the (negotiation) list is still working and our guys are still watching film, making sure we’re going to be ready. In terms of the coaching staff, my plan is to keep the same coaching staff but in regards to releasing that I haven’t gotten all the information I need on how to proceed contractually with it. So that’s still a work in progress."
Milanovich, who had O’Shea and Steinauer on his staff when he guided the Toronto Argonauts to a Grey Cup victory in 2012, admitted he may have jumped the gun earlier this year.
"I remember writing our team letter saying, ‘I have no doubt that we’re going to start on time, full stadium, this thing’s gonna roll,’" he said. "And I meant it. And then when that didn’t happen, I learned to temper my enthusiasm going forward a little bit as I eat my words, but I still feel the same way.
"I told the team the day after the season was cancelled... too many people love the CFL. It’s too important to too many people, to the culture of Canada. And I just can’t see it not working out."
O’Shea said communication with Winnipeg players has been limited since early fall, just prior to the season being officially jettisoned.
"The assistant coaches have kept in some contact with them but they understand how much you care about them and they also know that the door’s always open," said O’Shea. "I know they’re not physically in the building anymore...
"Like a lot of usual off-seasons, I (don’t) spend a lot of time trying to get in contact with the players on a weekly basis or anything like that — they’ve got lives to lead. And personally, like I thought as a player, I needed a break from that kind of guidance."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.