Toronto Argonauts linebacker Mike O'Shea, seen in this file photo, became the first Canadian and third player in CFL history to post 1,000 career tackles. (Canadian Press)
Argos' O'Shea takes milestone in stride
Consummate team player Mike O'Shea is modest about his latest achievement.
Last Updated Nov. 16, 2006
A part of Mike O'Shea wonders what all the fuss is about.
The mere mention of his latest accomplishment — becoming the first Canadian and third player in CFL history to post 1,000 career tackles — drew a chuckle from the Toronto Argonauts linebacker.
"It's hard not to have someone fall in front of you," O'Shea told CBC Sports Online, downplaying the achievement. "Anyone at any position is going to put up numbers if they play for a number of years.
"Football is such a great team sport, so individual milestones are really hard to accept. I'm proud I've played this long but my teammates have done such a great job. They've made my job easier. I'm more proud of my teammates."
The consummate team player, O'Shea went as far as saying he wouldn't mind if the offence stayed on the field for 60 minutes if it meant winning a fourth Grey Cup title.
"The only goal in a team sport should be to do everything possible on a personal level to win a championship," said O'Shea, who will have to wait until next year after the Argos fell 33-24 to Montreal in this year's East final on Nov. 12.
The 14-year CFL veteran did his part with five defensive tackles against the Alouettes following a season in which he posted 68 tackles, two interceptions and one fumble recovery in 18 games.
On Oct. 20, he recorded his 1,000th career tackle in the third quarter of a 13-9 home loss to Saskatchewan, joining fellow linebackers Willie Pless (1,241) and Alondra Johnson (1,084) as the only players to achieve the honour.
O'Shea admitted having his name alongside that of Pless, a former Argo, has special meaning since he played against the Hall of Famer and met him early in his playing career.
"In my first or second year, he talked to me about watching [game] film and I will never forget it," O'Shea said of Pless, an 11-time CFL all-star. "I remember him telling me, 'This is the right way and only way to do it as a pro.' He worked out very hard. He had a tremendous work ethic."
O'Shea, 36, adopted a similar work ethic and quickly became one of the most feared and respected linebackers in the game.
Passion for the game
A conversation with one of O'Shea's teammates, coaches or former opponents isn't complete without a mention of the six-foot-two, 225-pounder's passion for the game.
Argos quarterback Damon Allen, a physical specimen himself at age 43, said O'Shea's recent achievement speaks to his longevity and training regimen.
"He's a pro as far as preparing himself for a season," Allen told CBC Sports Online. "He puts in his time and works hard. When I played against him [earlier in my career], I knew he played with intelligence."
Former CFL running back Mike Pringle concurred, saying O'Shea was a smart defender when he faced him.
Pringle, who had his fair share of on-field battles with O'Shea over the years, retired in 2004 after amassing 16,425 rushing yards in 13 seasons.
"He needs to give me a big thank you [for reaching 1,000]," joked Pringle, a former Alouette and Edmonton Eskimo. "It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
'Mark of a great linebacker'
"He was one of those linebackers who was all over the field moving from side to side. That's the mark of a great linebacker. He was a consistent player and played at a high level all the time."
It's the only gear O'Shea has known since he cracked the starting lineup during his freshman year at the University of Guelph in Ontario in 1989.
Dan McNally, who coached O'Shea during his four years with the Gryphons, is convinced the former First Team All-Canadian decided early on that he wanted to pursue a career in the CFL.
"Mike always took really good care of himself. I think he has the body suited to the game," said McNally, director of athletics at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S.
"When you look back to his first year in the CFL [with Hamilton in 1993] he was quite fortunate. The Ticats had some injuries and he moved quickly into a starting role. Most Canadians, at any position, work their way [into the lineup] over a period of two or three years. Being able to do it quickly allowed Mike to get a jump on the other folks."
Looking to improve
Thirteen years later, O'Shea still works at gaining an edge on the competition. Three years ago, he altered his diet. And last winter, the father of three worked with personal trainer Larry Jusdanis to improve his foot speed.
"Every year at the start of training camp, I keep a mental note of what I need to improve on the following year," said O'Shea, who has missed just three games in the last 10 years. "I approach the game like I'm going to get cut every year."
That said, the native of North Bay, Ont., will let his body heal for another six weeks before preparing for an 11th season with the Argos. With one year remaining on his contract, O'Shea said he hasn't looked too far ahead as far as life after football.
"My career is football right now. I'm very focused on doing that and very fortunate to be doing this for a living," O'Shea said, adding he enjoys flying, golfing and bird hunting in his spare time. "I'm able to work it financially so I can treat it like a full-time job."
Grey Cup Features
- Who's got the edge? Grey Cup breakdown
- Then and Now
- Catching up with Tom Clements
- The Numbers Game
- Heart of the Lions
- Who's got the edge? Finals breakdown
- Life after Don Matthews
- O'Shea takes milestone in stride
- Sports Online's 2006 all-stars
- Top 10 stories of 2006
- Top 10 on-field plays
- Top 10 Grey Cup moments
- Who's got the edge? Semifinals breakdown