Love that Pinball

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:39 AM ET

All the batons had been twirled. The confetti had been shot into the air. The Arrr-gos chant had been repeated, oh maybe 100 times.

The end of the Argos victory parade at Nathan Phillips Square had been all but wrapped up before they finally got around to handing a microphone to the victorious coach.

And then Michael (Pinball) Clemons did something funny.

He wept.

"Coaches aren't supposed to be wimps," he said, as he gathered his emotions.

As if.

No, it turns out they are supposed to be like Pinball Clemons, 39, a coach who is 18 months younger than his starting quarterback, an unproven commodity who (go ahead, admit it), seemed to be wearing the headset because he was the most popular player in team history, not the most likely to coach.

As an Argos player, he was a 5-foot-5 superstar. My, he has grown.

Each player, Clemons said yesterday, "prepared as if our success depended on him and him alone."

There is no better definition of a team ready to play. Coach Pinball did that.

He made a Grey Cup possible by mentoring and nudging and imparting and infusing something into every player who crossed his path.

"I'd run through a wall for the guy," quarterback Damon Allen said the other day. They all would.

Clemons won with the same core of players who had seen their owner default the team into bankruptcy, the same players who saw their chance for a Grey Cup crushed in Montreal a year ago by an officiating mistake.

He instilled hope and confidence where none might reasonably exist and he did it all just by being himself.

There has never been, nor will there ever be, another Coach Pinball.

Clemons was the first African-American coach in the Grey Cup and it mattered not a lick. It wasn't a main element to the game, not even a sidebar.

Coach Pinball's story trumps colour and for that alone we should be grateful.

What a disquieting time for pro sports.

Too cancerous for public viewing, NHL hockey has crawled into a hole where it can wither in private. Owners and players blame each other for the disease and eagerly administer their own chemo.

The baseball superstar, the elegant Carlos Delgado, is on his way out of town for more money than he will ever spend, thus dooming a Blue Jays season still more than four months away.

The basketball superstar wants out, too. Vince Carter now insists (jokingly, supposedly) it isn't in his job description to dunk the ball and complains when the league won't let him listen to his tunes on the job.

A new level of ugliness in Detroit has underscored the visceral tension, even hatred, between athlete and fan.

And in the middle of all this, right at the height of the parade, Pinball Clemons, who builds without ever seeing a need for tearing down, cries for the sheer joy of an endeavour well won, of a community built among athletes.

Once he ran for daylight. Now he provides it.

"We can't win the Grey Cup every year," Pinball Clemons said, soaking in the moment, "but let's make an appointment.

"Same time next year."


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