Lineman tamed Leos in 2008 Grey Cup run
Mike Labinjo is being remembered by the football world as a colourful, talented, pleasant human being.
He died Saturday morning in his sleep at the young age of 38.
Labinjo, a Toronto native, was a member of the 2008 Grey Cupchampion Calgary Stampeders. “We are deeply saddened to learn of Mike’s death,” said Stampeders president-general manager John Hufnagel. “He was a big man with a big personality to match, and he was a key part of our Grey Cup championship team in 2008. “The team offers its condolences to Mike’s family and friends.”
A defensive lineman, Labinjo was drafted by Calgary in 2003 and joined the Stamps in 2007 after playing a total of 10 games with the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts. In 44 games with the Red and White from 2007-10, he recorded 61 defensive tackles including nine tackles for loss.
One performance in particular helped sum up the talent of Labinjo, as told by Postmedia in the weeks following his last game with the club. It happened on a cool late-fall evening at McMahon Stadium when Labinjo made two brilliant goal-line stands against the B.C. Lions in the 2008 West Division final.
Labinjo was part of the Stamps’ Grey Cup-winning team that year, thanks to that standout effort against the Lions. He followed up that performance with three tackles, a sack and three knock-downs in the Stamps’ Grey Cup victory over the Montreal Alouettes.
But his football career was cut short by injuries in his last two CFL seasons.
The Stampeders traded him to the Alouettes after the 2010 season, but that deal was voided a week later over concerns about his surgically repaired elbow.
He was then released by the Stamps in May 2011.
“I think it’s been a tough last two years in Calgary with my injuries and not being able to play at the level that Calgary wanted me at and where I knew I could play at,” Labinjo said at the time. “My only regret is that I’m going to miss Calgary. I loved playing for Calgary, I loved the fans, I loved the city. Calgary is my home. That’s the part that’s going to be tough for me.”
Labinjo remained in Calgary at the conclusion of his playing career, working at Solengo Capital and FirstService Residential.
Friends and fans of Labinjo surfaced Saturday to salute Labinjo.
“Terrell Owens told me to my face that Mike Labinjo was the most impressive athlete he’d seen play Football. Sad day. RIP Binj,” tweeted former Stamps teammate Johnny Forzani.
“Heartbroken to learn of the passing of former CFL and NFL player Mike Labinjo at the age of 38. Mike was as great a highschool football player as Toronto has known. Later starred at Michigan State. RIP my friend,” tweeted Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons.