Sunday, November 21, 2004

In praise of Pinball

There is a special bond between the Argonaut coach and his players, one that seems to go deeper than the normal give and take of player and coach. You only had to watch the opening moments of Sunday’s Grey Cup to understand just how much the Argonaut players would do for their guiding force in Double Blue.

There in the tunnel as the players were being introduced was Mike "Pinball" Clemons, a word for each starter as he headed out the tunnel, a slap on the pads, a laugh, a hug and always that smile. It’s the smile that makes you realize that playing football for Clemons may not just be a job or a sport, perhaps it’s a mission.

His enthusiasm is legendary, his eloquence obvious. There are many that say the Argos should tape his pre game speeches and sell them, such are they the definition of motivation. And if the results are any indication they should double the press run.

While there may be many across Canada who probably have no great love lost for anything Toronto, there can’t be many, if any who don’t have the highest regard for Clemons. He seems to be the embodiment of the can do ethic. He approached his season this year in an always moving forward mode, never looking back.

Having taken his football team from the Bankruptcy court a year ago, the stadium on Bank Street on Sunday, the reason for this team’s success can safely be attributed to the head coach. He delegates the responsibility and the praise to his coaches and both Rich Stubler on defence and Kent Austin on offence have done an amazing job with a young Argo team this year. But the glue of the franchise is the humble man from Florida, who has become much larger than a team, a league or even the game of football.

The success of his team on Sunday will only go to cement his relationship with his adopted home (and soon his new country). Toronto has frequently had heroes over the years only to watch them disappear with nary a glance from the faithful. For Clemons that will never happen, he has become as much of that city as any original settler family from the days of Upper Canada and a town called York.

He’s a tireless volunteer, a publicity shy visitor to countless children’s causes and the go to guy when somebody needs a name for a fund raising drive or a spokesperson for a cause. And besides all those good works, he’s obviously a pretty good football coach. A roster of players wearing double blue are holding onto a Cup and will soon get some rings, testimony that treating your workers with respect and honesty still counts for something in an era of greed and me first personalities.

You saw it in the tunnel before the game, on the sidelines as the game progressed and on the field at the end as they gave out a trophy. Respect both given and received, one of the keys to a hard earned victory by a team featuring a classy coach.

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