CALGARY — It's as close to a public display of 'bromance' you're ever going to see from Mike O'Shea. Because if the usually reserved Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach had it his way, it never would have happened in the first place.
"We made a pact that we weren't going to talk about this stuff but I guess I have to," O'Shea said.
There he was Wednesday morning, sitting in a director's chair opposite Hamilton Tiger-Cats bench boss Orlondo Steinauer, the Grey Cup trophy propped between them, shedding his rough exterior and allowing for a softer side to shine through.
Indeed, sitting in front of dozens of journalists at the annual coaches' media conference, O'Shea quickly realized he wouldn't be able to hide from one of the week's most compelling storylines. It only made sense, too, that the discussion about the decades-long friendship between O'Shea and Steinauer, a bond that first formed as teammates in Toronto and only grew after they were hired as coaches with the Argonauts, took up a majority of the 45 minutes the coaches were scheduled to talk.
"One little neat tidbit is that we were actually first teammates in Detroit in the NFL and I didn’t really get to know him well there, except for I was aware that he was in the CFL," said Steinauer, who in his first season as head coach of the East Division champion Tiger-Cats. "When I came to the CFL I quickly learned that he was the man, he was an established player up here. Then once I got to be a teammate I saw why."
Steinauer and O'Shea had both won a Grey Cup before they became teammates in Toronto for the 2001 season. O'Shea, a hulking middle linebacker, had been part of a dominant Argonauts team in the mid-90s, winning back-to-back Grey Cups in 1996 and 1997. Steinauer, a ball-hawking safety, helped lead Hamilton to a title in 1999, recording a pivotal interception in what was the last time the Tiger-Cats hoisted the CFL's most cherished chalice.
In a weird twist, O'Shea was traded to Hamilton in 2000 and as part of the deal the Argonauts received the playing rights to Steinauer.
"I wasn't here when the trade happened. I think I was in Mia..." Steinauer started, before his pal finished the thought. "You were in Miami," O'Shea said. "It all worked out because I think when you go back we ended up on the same team anyway."
Steinauer never played for the Double Blue that year and by next season, in 2001, they were both in Toronto. Three years later, the two headlined an Argonauts defence that held Wally Buono's B.C. Lions to one touchdown in a 27-19 Toronto victory in the 2004 Grey Cup.
The two played eight seasons together in Toronto. Over the years, it became a friendship built on a dedication and love for football. Both wanted to be the best, and each refused to take shortcuts in their pursuit for excellence.
There have been many stories over the years, both on and off the field. They grew as men together, watching their careers and families grow over time. They still keep tabs on what each other's kids are up to.
O'Shea was known for his tireless work ethic, which included watching hours and hours of film, often on his own. It was this setting that the Bombers coach would use to best describe his feelings for Steinauer, who watched less tape than O'Shea but not by much.
"When I’m laying on the floor or I pulled the couch in from the hotel lobby and I'd hear that door creep open and it was Steiny — I always looked forward to that. In fact, I often remember— I probably never told him this — but I would, as I watched film, I would be looking at the door hoping it was going to open," said O'Shea.
"Because the one thing I know is Steiny’s passion for the game. He’s a brilliant football mind and every time we sat together I got better and that was extremely important to me. So, I just enjoy those times."
For Steinauer, it was a moment on the field that best summed up O'Shea and his razor-sharp focus on the small details.
"We were in Montreal and we were studying film together tirelessly, often times together but sometimes separate. I remember they (Alouettes) had this guy by the name of (Thomas) Haskins," Steinauer said.
"There was a certain formation they line up in and I seen Osh turn to me and wipe his gloves off and say ‘I got this one. I’m going to get this one.’ Because he understood what was happening and where it was going to go and that just stood out to me that the preparation, the time he put in, it will show up on game day."
Neither O’Shea nor Steinauer left the game on their own terms, with both being forced from the CFL before the 2009 season after Hall of Fame careers. O'Shea was inducted in 2017, while Steinauer is in this year's class.
Steinauer was released midway through the 2008 season and the next year tried out some media opportunities. O'Shea was out before the start of the 2009 season, and while the Argonauts planned a retirement press conference, he refused to say he was done (he still hasn't filed his retirement papers). O'Shea went into medical equipment sales for 15 months before returning to football.
In a special twist of fate, they were both asked by then-Argos coach Jim Barker to join the coaching staff in Toronto — O'Shea as the special teams co-ordinator and Steinauer as defensive backs coach. A couple years later, in 2012, they were back in the winner's circle.
"I knew Steiny was always going to be a coach and I think if we go back on record, look at the records, I would have said I would never be a coach," O'Shea said.
"We’ve both been around this league a long time and because of that there is also a lot of failure, there’s a lot of times we didn’t get championships. Having a number of years with Steiny together and working through those and becoming champions together and then coaching together as champions, it’s just been a… I don’t know if there are exact words to describe that."
O'Shea and Steinauer are now set to do battle against each other in Sunday's Grey Cup game. It's another special moment together, even if they're on opposite sidelines.
Just don't expect any bromance once the game begins.
"Hey, we’re highly competitive," O'Shea said. "We both want our teams to win and win with authority — trust me."
Added Steinauer: "I can tell you that after the coin toss there’s no wave across. It’s going to be two physical football teams going after one goal. Nine teams start off with the same goal and there’s only two teams working this week, so, yeah, we want to beat each other."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.