Winning is everything

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

TORONTO -- A telling image of Michael O'Shea, football lifer, doesn't easily disappear.

The oldest of all Toronto Argos not named Damon Allen sat in his game-soaked equipment almost an hour after being defeated in last year's East Final by the Montreal Alouettes, locked in a tiny room alone at the back of the Argos dressing room, not moving, stewing in private, talking to no one.

"A lot of things went through my head," said O'Shea, 37, who trails only Mats Sundin for longevity among current Toronto pro athletes and can be, most days, almost as distant. "You don't ever want to end a season that way. I start every season knowing I'm going to win the Grey Cup ... As you get older, the opportunities become more and more rare. When a great opportunity like that slips away, it is very tough to take."

Some years are tougher than others.

"I've played 14 seasons and won three Grey Cups," O'Shea said. "That isn't a lot. That's a lot of seasons ended in failure."

This is O'Shea's 15th season in the Canadian Football League. He doesn't care much for what he calls failure, now or then. He prepares every week as though it's his last game only this week, as the Argos play the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, it just might be.

He doesn't know if there will be a next year, another football season, won't even think about that until at least December. He doesn't think much about storybook endings, about winning the Grey Cup at home, holding up the trophy, saying he's going to Canada's Wonderland, then announcing his retirement.

"Going out on top doesn't enter into my mind," O'Shea said.

This isn't like Milt Stegall, wanting the Grey Cup ring so he can retire in peace. O'Shea probably will never retire: The betting here is, when the time comes they're going to have to push him out the door, kicking and screaming, quite possibly in full equipment.

This isn't like Lanny McDonald, hanging on to win that last-grasp Stanley Cup. This is a player who annually takes stock of his knees, his hips, his shoulders, his elbows, his feet, and then decides whether to go through all the pain again.

"It's football," he said. "Everybody's had injuries. Everybody's had surgery. It's something we don't talk about as players. Every guy goes through it. When you sign up for football, you know this is part of the game."

O'Shea is the stay-at-home middle linebacker on the best defence in Canadian football. He is surrounded by the young, the cocky, the fast and the furious, and all he is asked to do on the field is lead, coach, stuff the run, and coach some more.

Two years ago, in the East Final at Rogers Centre, O'Shea looked pretty much done. Eric Lapointe, no Charles Roberts himself, ran all over the Argos in the second half and the defence couldn't stop a thing. The call came to replace O'Shea -- a call he never heard.

Some athletes are deaf that way -- and it works in their favour. They can't or won't see the writing on the wall. They want to quit when it's time, not when someone tells them to. But stubborn as O'Shea might be, he knows he has this year, this weekend for starters, maybe next year, maybe not.

But first, there is Roberts to contain on Sunday.

"He didn't play the last time we played them and the game before that they only gave him the ball six times," O'Shea said. "I don't know if we stopped him or they stopped themselves. I'm not sure."

He'll find out Sunday against the Bombers. Find out if there is another game to play, another week to practise, a fourth Grey Cup to pursue.

"As time has worn on, there is this feeling in the back of your head that (playoff football) is precious and this is rare," O'Shea said. "You don't know when or if it will happen again. In year four and five of my career, I won the Grey Cup. When you're younger, you think, 'I've got lots of time and this happens all the time.'

Here's the dark view from the pragmatic O'Shea: Winning is everything and the only thing. The stories and the storybooks are for others to show and tell.


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