Pinball an inspiration

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

This week, a local newspaper columnist lamented about the lack of competent candidates to run against Toronto mayor David Miller in the next election.

Well, there is one potential candidate who, if he ever decided to run for political office, would win hands down. Or, perhaps, hands up as he used to catch the ball when toiling for the Toronto Argonauts a few years ago.

I'm, of course, talking about the infectious, gregarious and inspirational head coach of the Boatmen, Michael (Pinball) Clemons.

They say his university background-based inspirational orations in the dressing room lifts every Argo's self-confidence to unusual heights. No one knows it better than the man who appointed the former player as coach of the Argos -- J.I. Albrecht.

Five years ago, J.I. was the team's managing director. The owner, Sherwood Schwarz of New York -- a distant cousin of Albrecht -- figured hiring Clemons was only a public relations move to attract more fans to the Argos playpen. Schwarz wanted Paul Masotti to take over as coach.

After winning the Grey Cup a year ago and spreading the gospel of football and family values all over the province, Pinball will confront another challenge today when his proteges face the Montreal Alouettes at the Rogers Centre.

Usually a level-headed individual, Pinball wasn't about to dismiss the Alouettes, even though the Argos plucked their feathers at their last encounter in Montreal. In fact, he says, home field is not necessarily an advantage.

"This is our fourth straight Eastern Conference final against Montreal, but the first game here since 1997," Clemons said.

"We understand the fans view home field as a great advantage. I say it's not guaranteed, because last year we beat them right there on their home ground. In fact, maybe they'll have the advantage playing against us in Toronto."

I didn't want him to disoute his claim by asking him who does he think he's kidding? Wouldn't he agree that more than 40,000 Torontonians screaming for the Boatmen might unnerve the Montreal players? But I did ask him if his defence can zero in on Montreal quarterback Anthony Cavillo to stop the Alouettes' explosive offence.

"You cannot eliminate a quarterback," emphasized the Argo head coach. "We would like to take him out of the picture, but quarterbacks have the advantage because they touch the ball first on every play. We just have to stick to our game plan

and look after the red zone. The big thing is to have more than one weapon when you go into an important game such as this one. I know the Als and coach Don Matthews will have more than one weapon. That's why you cannot zero in on one player, whoever he is.

"Indeed, we won't change anything, or do things differently on Sunday. We'll continue to exploit our strengths."

Pinball didn't spell out what the strengths were , nor did he admit to any unhappiness with the play of certain players. Rather, his comments exuded confidence, albeit somewhat tempered by a dose of reality.

'I'm happy with all my guys, but I'm not content," he said. "If I feel that a player is not ready, he just won't dress."

I quickly realized that Pinball is careful about how he phrases his comments. He doesn't want to give his friendly rival, Don Matthews, extra weapons to shoot with.

On the other hand, his comments demonstrated a political acumen that should make David Miller pray that the Argos keep winning ... and Clemons keeps coaching.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

Former Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., chairman Steve Stavro and his wife, Sally, have enriched the Sun Variety Village Christmas Fund for challenged youngsters with a $1,000 donation from their Family Foundation. Also, friends Mark and Karen Bonokoski have chipped in with $50, while the country's most famous ticket salesman, Dick Bradbeer, contributed $100 in memory of the late Blue Jays play-by-play announcer Tom Cheek.

VARIETY VILLAGE DONATIONS

Steve & Sally Stavro Foundation $1,000

Lavina and William Chamberlain $100

Dick Bradbeer and Associates

(In memory of Tom Cheek) $100

Mary Bobinac $100

Mark & Karen Bonokoski $50

Lionel Balez $50

Stuart Keir $41

Armond & Doreen Di Febo $30

Jayne Porter $25

Patti Pagett $20

Mrs. Mary Sullivan $10

John Davey $10

Dave McGlynn $10

Carl Anderson $10

Total $1,556.00

Total to Date $3,548.50


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