No O'Shea? No way!

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 5:56 AM ET

HAMILTON -- It takes an awful lot for Mike O'Shea to sit out a football game.

The rugged linebacker has not missed a Canadian Football League regular-season game following a failed tryout with the Detroit Lions in 1996 and has played in every Labour Day game since his pro career began in '93.

Both streaks will come to an end today when the Argos travel to Hamilton to play the Tiger-Cats at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

And it is killing O'Shea.

He has an injured shoulder, but did everything he physically could to play. In the end, Argos head coach Pinball Clemons rejected O'Shea's lobbying. Clemons decided O'Shea needed a rest, and it bothered the veteran player so much he declined to talk to the media about his status.

"I am surprised (he's not playing)," Hamilton head coach Greg Marshall said yesterday. "We were talking about it as coaches. That guy would play with one arm. He's that tough. We've seen him before in pre-game warmup where he can barely walk."

WON FIRST ROUND

Clemons plans to play the 34-year-old warrior this Saturday at the Rogers Centre when the Argos and Tiger-Cats conclude the back half of their home-and-home series.

"It is my desire (for him) to get two games rest," Clemons said. "It is the antithesis of his desire. I won the first round. I don't know if I can win the second round. He's just going to wear me out."

That O'Shea's ironman streak is ending on Labour Day in Hamilton is interesting. Following his tryout with the Lions, he signed with the Argos, spurning a return to Hamilton where he had played three seasons.

He made his debut for Toronto on Labour Day at Ivor Wynne, and the crowd booed him as a Benedict Arnold.

It didn't abate completely even when he came back to Hamilton for the 2000 season after the Argos' regime at the time traded him to the Tiger-Cats. Some fans just couldn't let go of their anger. He re-signed as a free agent with Toronto in 2001, further stoking the fans' fire.

So, it will seem a tad strange for O'Shea not to be playing in a Labour Day game in Hamilton.

"I can't even comprehend it being a Labour Day without Mike O'Shea," said Hamilton receiver Mike Morreale, who has been a teammate of O'Shea's in Toronto and Hamilton and is one of his friends.

"It sucks because if we win, I want him to be able to feel that pain. I enjoy so much having him on the field, just because of the little battles. It's going to be awkward without him on the field, but he'll be on the sidelines. He'll make his presence felt at some point."

Marshall said there are "mixed feelings" in his team's locker room about O'Shea's absence.

"He's a great player and I have a ton of respect for him," Marshall said. "On the other hand, you kind of say: 'We'd like to play Mike O'Shea and beat him because Mike O'Shea is the Toronto Argonauts."

Tiger-Cats defensive line coach Dennis McPhee, who was on the coaching staff when O'Shea played university football at Guelph and later with Hamilton, said O'Shea is the consummate professional because of his work ethic. O'Shea plays on all special teams in addition to his starting duties.

"If one of my sons grew up to be Mike O'Shea, I'd be very happy, honest to God," McPhee said.

"He set the bench mark for every Canadian-trained linebacker in the country for the next 20 years. He'll draw comparisons to that, and if you can have a kid that could be the next Mike O'Shea out of any university in this country, you've got a good football player. Period."

That's why it's a big deal Mike O'Shea isn't playing today -- for the Argos, Tiger-Cats, the Hamilton fans and, most of all, O'Shea.


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