Pinball won't let feud linger

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

Every once in a while that ever-present smile on Pinball Clemons' face is replaced by a frown.

Being a head coach and managing players and personalities can do that to an individual who is upbeat and positive but is also emotional and prone to showing it, particularly when something disturbing happens.

Clearly what happened in his team's game on Friday against the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium bothered the Argos coach. Even though the Argos won 22-16, the scoreboard become secondary to a skirmish involving two Argos players, receiver Robert Baker and kicker Noel Prefontaine, who engaged in a verbal confrontation that escalated into a physical dustup.

It happened midway in the second quarter, coinciding with raised tempers by both teams, and an objectionable conduct penalty charged against Argos receiver Andre Talbot.

Baker became enraged when a Calgary player allegedly spit on him. Clemons felt he had to address the situation quickly, particularly with the Argos moving toward a possible score -- which, in fact, they did, two plays after the Talbot penalty.

Clemons called Baker over to the Argos sideline to regain his composure. Prefontaine said something to him, and Baker became so emotional that he threw a punch at his teammate.

Neither player wanted to talk to the media about the incident, but Clemons did, wearing an expression that clearly showed his displeasure, both with his players and himself.

When asked if he was concerned that the incident would cause the team to lose its composure, Clemons said: "I lost mine. I was disappointed it happened, no question about it. Those kinds of things should not take place. Yes, I'm absolutely concerned with that. I'm glad that we found a way to win the football game, but it was absolutely a distraction. We have to go back now and just manage the process. We'll do that internally rather than externally."

This is not the first time Clemons has had to deal with an incident of two of his players clashing. Last year, after a game in Winnipeg, two players had harsh words with one another in the locker room after the game and it nearly evolved into a fight. Clemons addressed the matter immediately by talking to the team about maintaining its character and later meeting privately with one of the players. And in a practice leading up to last year's Eastern final, Baker did not appreciate the way one of the defensive players grabbed him while running a route and punches were thrown before the two were separated. Clemons convened the two players afterward to settle the matter, lest it spill over into the locker room.

The situation in the Calgary game, which was witnessed not only by the announced stadium crowd of 34,102 crowd but a far bigger audience watching on television, seemed somewhat surreal.

It is one thing for teammates to scuffle or argue in private, it is quite another to do it in public.

What made it even more bizarre is that later in the game Baker caught what became the game-winning touchdown, and was still agitated by the crowd taunting him, at which point Clemons walked over to calm him. Prefontaine, meanwhile, showed his value to the team by making some critical punts that pinned the Stamps deep in their own side of the field and laying a devastating hit on returner Ken-Yon Rambo right at Calgary's bench. For a brief moment it appeared as if Prefontaine would find himself in a second fight, this time with the opposition.

"Pre kicked awfully well and Baker caught a touchdown, so they did their respective parts. They were pros," Clemons said. "But does (the sideline incident) bother me? They say if it don't kill you, it will make you better, so hopefully this will make us better in the long run.

"I can't make sure it won't happen again because you can't control people," Clemons added. "But we'll make sure we control the process and do what is proper for us here in this situation."


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