Line­man tamed Leos in 2008 Grey Cup run

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS - TODD SAEL­HOF tsael­hof @post­media.com

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.

Mike Labinjo

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