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SIMMONS: Grey Cup 107 an 'almost-family' affair for Bombers and Ticats

CALGARY — Normally six degrees — or better yet, minus-6 — is a Grey Cup temperature.

This year, as Grey Cup week began Tuesday morning here and with horses already on display, the 107th championship could be well be termed the six degrees of Canadian Football League separation Cup.

Almost everybody, it seems, is connected to somebody here. And if they’re not connected between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who don’t win Grey Cups very often, they’re somehow connected to the Toronto Argonauts, the least important team in the league until you begin sizing up the influence this week.

Mike O’Shea and Orlondo Steinauer spent eight seasons playing defence together for the Argos. The two close friends will coach against each other on Sunday. They played defence in Toronto, one becoming the voice of the secondary, the other becoming the guts of the defence on the field.

More than once, Rich Stubler, who used to run the Argos defence, described Steinauer as being a coach on the field. Steinauer played for Hamilton before his eight seasons with the Argos. In 1999, his interception was a significant play in the Tiger-Cats last Grey Cup win.

“Like anyone remembers?” said Steinauer, almost sarcastically.

But in Hamilton, where there’s been just one championship in 20 years, just about everyone remembers and the coach is not thought as mentor and hero.

O’Shea began his playing career in Hamilton, then moved to Toronto, then Hamilton, then Toronto. And in between, a moment or two with the Detroit Lions. But mostly, he drove up and down the QEW, being part of the great Argo-Ticat hatred.

Steinauer played for the Ticats championship team in ‘99 and then teamed with O’Shea on the Argos Grey Cup team of 2004. They won together in Toronto as players and then won in 2012, as part of Scott Milanovich’s staff, in the 100th Grey Cup.

“Two of the best,” Milanovich called them in a text message Tuesday.

This isn’t like the Harbaughs coaching against each other in a Super Bowl. But it’s not far away from that.

Steinauer considers O’Shea a close friend. They’ll do a press conference together on Wednesday morning, probably run into each other at the league awards on Thursday night and that will be it.

“We’re not planning on having dinner or anything,” said Steinauer before leaving for Calgary Tuesday.

Jim Barker, who has coached and been manager of the Argos on a number of occasions, and is now found on the Ticats sidelines, didn’t just hire O’Shea and Steinauer for their first professional coaching jobs. He hired them the same day. Both had retired after the 2008 season. Both took a year to see what the world might bring them.

O’Shea took a job selling pharmaceutical equipment. If you’ve spent more than a minute with O’Shea in your lifetime, you’ll realize he wasn’t cut out for sales. He happily became the Argos special teams coach.

Steinauer tried a career in broadcast, analyzing football for Rogers Sportsnet. He did some radio, he did some television, he showed some promise for media. But he was like O’Shea, cut out for the game and its details.

It’s not complicated to understand why both have become terrific coaches.

That’s just part of the six degrees of CFL separation. Tommy Condell’s first job was as special teams coach of the Blue Bombers. He was part of Marc Trestman’s staff when the Argos last won the Grey Cup. He is now offensive coordinator in Hamilton.

Why does this matter?

Because when Condell was with the Argos, they had a practice roster wide receiver named Bralon Addison that he liked. He may have been the only one who liked Addison. When the Argos signed Duron Carter last season — hoping for big things — they had to let a player go. They put Addison on waivers.

Condell made sure Hamilton brought him in.

When the Ticats aren’t throwing to Speedy Banks, they are throwing to Addison. Even more than they throw to Luke Tasker.

Addison never caught a pass for the Argos. He caught 95 this season for the Ticats, for 1,236 yards and combined eight touchdowns from catching and running the ball. That was fourth best in the league, second best on his own team.

On Sunday, Zach Collaros, who used to play in Hamilton, Saskatchewan and Toronto, will start at quarterback for Winnipeg. He was the starter in the 2014 Grey Cup for Hamilton. Before that he backed up Ricky Ray in Toronto.

Collaros was starting for the Roughriders earlier in the season when Hamilton’s Simoni Lawrence essentially cheap-shotted him, almost ending his season.

Now the former teammates and old friends are head to head on Sunday, with Collaros starting for Winnipeg; Lawrence up for defensive player of the year with Hamilton. Lawrence says all is well. Collaros has to remember how his career almost ended. Just part of the knots that need to untangled here.

And in case the Grey Cup should come down to a late field goal, well, there’s Justin Medlock kicking for the Bombers. He used to kick for the Ticats and the Argos and at one time kicked for the Ticats and shared living accommodations with an Argo player.

Six degrees of CFL separation. That’s just how close this league can be.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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