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July 8, 2016

BLOG: Resiliency

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea during the game between the Montreal Alouettes and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field on Wednesday June 8, 2016 in Winnipeg, MB. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

In my eight seasons with the team, I’m not so sure I’ve ever seen the type of outside pressure to win a regular season game – in week three – than there was leading up to Thursday night’s game in Hamilton. I really felt the players and coaches did a phenomenal job of not allowing that increased urgency to creep into the locker room, but it was there.

At least, I definitely could feel it.

As I wrote earlier this week, maybe that’s because this team is better than what had been shown the first two weeks. I’m sure many at home slapped their foreheads and reacted with a ‘here we go again’ when Brandon Banks went storming past our sideline on the missed field goal return. Trust me – that feeling doesn’t just sit in the pit of the stomachs of fans watching at home, but it can be in the minds of the players and coaches on the sideline as well.

But here’s the thing – that never happened. Not with this group. Not last night.

With the rabid TiCats fans enjoying the return, I glanced over at Drew Willy, watched him grab his helmet without missing a beat and yell to the offence, “alright, let’s go get it back offence.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Drew Willy (5) sets to throw during first half CFL football action against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in Hamilton, Ont., on Thursday, July 7, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

All week Drew was dialed in. He and the offence weren’t about to allow an early special teams score ruin the evening. They also weren’t going to allow some headset troubles (we worked basically the entire first half without the QB headsets and the booth-to-field coaches’ headsets working) to get in the way.

Although the team had never even made a suggestion of it, newspapers and some media seemed convinced – or maybe wanted to be convinced – that a loss in Hamilton would spell trouble for our head coach. I’ve made my thoughts on the matter very clear, as has everyone else in the organization. And I spend a lot of time with the man. If he was concerned about the outside rumours, or felt any added pressure, he had me fooled too.

But I will say this – he was damn intense.

When we had the mix-up on the field goal attempt, he had a stare that could kill, but didn’t say anything. What was there to say? Guys know when they’ve made a mistake, but he sure wasn’t happy. At halftime, he spoke loudly, sharply, and mincing no words, outlining what he liked, but also what he didn’t like. Positive for the most part, but pointed.

And there lies Mike O’Shea’s strength – while many will criticize him for not showing enough emotion, locking eyes and hearing a few purposefully chosen words from the head coach will send more of a message to any player than a ranting tirade.

Post-game, he went over what he thought got us to the win. “Couple things I loved: we gave up the missed field goal touchdown, and it didn’t *** faze us. Kept battling. Understand that you can do that now. Understand we can take the ball away when we *** choose to.”

In pre-game, he asked the team to “leave it all on the field until you have to be carted off, and the next guy will take over.” He brought that up again post-game as well.

“I look around and see a bunch of men who left it all out there. You unloaded everything you had on ‘em.”

As the locker room enjoyed the win, Coach O’Shea spoke with the assembled media outside of our locker room, consistent with his message that this is one game, and yes, it’s a great start to being the team we can be, but it’s only one game.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea during the game between the Montreal Alouettes and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field on Wednesday June 8, 2016 in Winnipeg, MB. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

The team bus rolled out of Tim Hortons Field at about 10:45 p.m., without the Head Coach.

He normally walks back to the hotel after games, because it gives him a chance to collect his thoughts on the evening. Around 11:45 p.m., while the equipment guys were still loading all the trunks and bags onto the trucks that will head back to Winnipeg, I received a text from one of them:

“If anyone is looking for him, Osh is here helping us load the bags.”

Coach O'SheaI didn’t believe them, so he sent me a photo.

Sure enough, after winning an absolutely massive game, on the road, with 46 of his family and friends in attendance, the bench boss spent over an hour loading bag after bag onto the trucks in 30C stifling heat.

I wasn’t really even sure how to reply, so I asked“why?”

The answer came: “I don’t know. He just showed up and started doing it – said he wants to help.”

That sums Mike O’Shea up perfectly.  Last night was a huge win for the organization, and one of many to come this season. It was huge for him, too. And damn, he deserved it.

See you Thursday back at Investors Group Field.