The Biggest Smile In Sports Is Staying In Toronto
By Chris Lawton
Not only are the Toronto Argonauts off at a record pace this season, but they have been busy locking down the future too. First they extended QB Chad Kelly, then Special teams coordinator Mickey Donovan. Now they have gone and extended the architect and driving force of the team, the legendary Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons as GM.
Pinball - A CFL Legend
Pinball, the man with the megawatt smile is a sporting icon when it comes to the Double Blue. Michael Clemons signed as a free agent with the Argos. in June 1989. In his first game as an Argo, Clemons had two kickoff returns for 62 yards and five punt returns for 46 yards.
In that first outing he would be named player of the game. It was the start of an incredible bond between player and team. Clemons’ whole professional career was spent in Toronto and he has served the team long past his playing days.
There are seven Grey Cup rings in Clemons’ collection. Three of them came as a player. One came as Head Coach, two came as an administrator, and one as the GM with Toronto.
Michael Clemons On The Field
Clemons was arguably one of the best return men the CFL has ever seen. Not only was he a brilliant return man, he was also a more than capable running back and receiver for his team.
When he passed the 5,000 yard mark in four separate categories in 1999, rushing, receiving, kick returns and punt returns he became the first person in pro-football ever to do this.
At the point of his retirement from playing, he had career statistics of 5341 yards rushing, 682 catches for 7015 yards receiving, 6025 yards returning punts and 6349 yards on kickoff returns.
Becoming GM Of The Double Blue
Clemons was announced as the new man at the helm for Toronto back in October 2019. He stepped in to replace the departing Jim Popp. Popp was hired by the Toronto Argonauts in 2017 to a three-year contract. The high point was a 9-9 team that won the 2017 Grey Cup. However, after that the Boatmen went 4-14, and were 2-12 when Popp was let go (going on to have another 4-14 season).
GM was a new role for Clemons but he was more than up to the task. He certainly had a pedigree with the team. Clemons spent 12 seasons with the Argos as a running back. ‘Mr Argos’ had a legendary career recording 25,438 combined yards with the Argos, a CFL record, while winning three Grey Cup championships as a player.
He has also been head coach of the Argos twice. Over that span he had a 67-54-1 record and won a Grey Cup in 2004. He was also the Argos team president from November 2001 to September 2002 and chief executive officer (December 2007 to November 2008) before being appointed vice chair of the team in May 2009, a role he held until this appointment.
The Results So Far
You can see why the Argos wanted to extend Clemons in the role as GM. A clear focus in all the early statements he made were around a change in culture. And he has gone on to rebuild the team and create a winning culture.
The Argos (12-1) had already clinched first place in the East Division with six regular season games left to be played. Along the way sweeping their most heated rivals the Hamiton Tiger-Cats. This follows on from 9-5 and 11-7 seasons. Toronto will have played in three consecutive East Division Finals since Pinball became GM and are the reigning Grey Cup champions.
They are building a consistent level of success Argonauts fans have not seen in many years. They had not made three straight Division Finals before this since 2008.
The biggest smile in sports is set to light up things around BMO Field for a little while longer – and the Argos, and the league, are all the better for that.
Chris originally started following the NFL with the ‘first wave’ of fans when it was shown on Channel 4 in the 1980’s. He has been a keen supporter of the Miami Dolphins since 1983. Chris first encountered the CFL in 2016 and instantly fell in love with the Canadian game. He has been writing about the CFL 2017. Chris has a degree in history, postgraduate degree in librarianship and can be found on twitter as @CFLfanUK