FRIESEN: O'Shea has team to end Bombers drought
Two weeks ago, Mike O’Shea quietly passed Dave Ritchie on the career longevity list for Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coaches.
Wearing the headset for his 98th game in blue and gold put O’Shea third in franchise annals, behind only Bud Grant (160 games) and the late Cal Murphy (138).
Since then, the sixth-year Bomber boss has called the shots and worn his trademark shorts for Games 99 and 100, hitting the century mark Friday in Edmonton.
The milestone passed without much fanfare, as things surrounding O’Shea tend to do. He was asked about it briefly in Edmonton, and said he wasn’t even aware of it.
He might not be aware of this one, either: Friday’s 34-28 victory, improving the Bombers to 8-2 on the season, was Win No. 53 for the kid from North Bay, Ont.
That vaults O’Shea into third place on the all-time Winnipeg win list, one ahead of Ritchie.
I can see his sweatshirt-clad shoulders shrugging already.
There’s one more list O’Shea has recently passed Ritchie on, and unlike the others it’s not one to be particularly proud of.
The 48-year-old now owns more of The Drought than any other head coach.
Ritchie got five full seasons to end it, failed and got the pink slip in his sixth.
O’Shea is getting a sixth chance to slay the dragon, a beast now in its 29th year and growing snarlier as it ages.
With the team he has right now, though, he’s got a better chance to put it out of its misery than anyone since Ritchie in 2001.
You’ll remember that powerful squad rolled to a 14-4 regular-season mark, the last time the Big Blue won at the clip they’re winning now.
It all came apart under the dome at the Big-O, of course, and Ritchie’s squads never got that close to a Grey Cup again.
It would be another decade before a Winnipeg team re-claimed top spot in a division, but that was with a mediocre 10-8 mark in the weak-kneed East under Coach LaPo.
Friday’s grinder of a win over the Double-E gave O’Shea’s outfit a solid grip of bragging rights in the more hotly-contested West, albeit with the meat of the schedule still to come.
But after the way it prevailed in Edmonton, there are more than enough reasons to believe the West Final is destined for the ‘Peg on the 17th of November.
Everybody and their dog in Alberta knew second-string quarterback Chris Streveler was going to tuck the ball under those bulging biceps and take off with it, or else stuff it into the mitts of homegrown real-estate gobbler Andrew Harris.
Edmonton boss Jason Maas acknowledged as much after the game, saying nobody expected Streveler’s arm to be the difference.
Even so, Maas’s defence had no answer for Winnipeg’s ground game. When these hogs decide it’s time to eat, there’s no stopping them.
On defence, the Bombers allowed the Esks to gobble up all kinds of yardage between the 10’s, then promptly slammed the door to the kitchen and forced kicker Sean Whyte to clean up the crumbs.
That’s the same menu they forced on near-perfect quarterback Trevor Harris the last time they met.
For dessert, how about item No. 5 on the Winnipeg defence – when’s the last time the CFL saw a performance like Willie Jefferson’s? I’m not sure I ever have.
Harris had been sacked three times in his previous nine games, combined. The Bombers’ freak of nature got him three times on Friday, and that was part of a night’s work that included forced fumbles, a single point off one of them and the onside-kick recovery that sealed the deal.
Why the Riders let Jefferson take a free-agent flight out of Regina, I’ll never know. But they’re going to regret it over the next two weeks, in the Labour Day/Banjo Bowl combo.
Lastly, the Bomber special teams can block kicks or scare the beejeezus out of opponents, with speed merchants Lucky Whitehead and Janarion Grant fielding them.
They can also methodically squeeze the life from you with the Swiss watch-like precision of Justin Medlock.
That over-the-top faith O’Shea put in Medlock when he asked him to kick a 61-yard field goal in a playoff game two seasons ago? It’s paying off now.
Put it all together, and the Bombers seem to find a new way to win every week.
It’s not always pretty – heck, it’s RARELY pretty. If they ever discover a high-powered air attack, they’d be nearly unbeatable.
They’re not, of course.
But if they can beat good teams with Streveler in for Matt Nichols, they can hang onto the top rung in the West.
And the man who wears the shorts, along with the longest portion of this town’s championship drought, will get his chance to end it.
Not even O’Shea will shrug that off.
ALL-TIME BOMBERS COACHING VICTORIES
Bud Grant, 102
Cal Murphy, 86
Mike O’Shea, 53
Dave Ritchie, 52
ALL-TIME GAMES COACHED
Bud Grant, 160
Cal Murphy, 138
Mike O’Shea, 100
Dave Ritchie, 97
MOST GAMES DURING THE DROUGHT
Mike O’Shea, 100
Dave Ritchie, 97
Doug Berry, 54
Paul LaPolice, 44