'I let so many people down'

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

Pinball Clemons jogged slowly off the turf at Rogers Centre, maybe for the very last time, not stopping to look around, wanting so much to apologize to somebody.

"I'm sorry," the least likely coach in professional sports whispered, standing in a hallway near the door of the Argos dressing room. "I'm sorry for the people of Toronto. I'm sorry. You feel like you let down the entire city.

"It hurts," he said, stopping in mid-sentence to hug one his departing Argos, stopping again to calm his emotions. It was one player. Then another. Then another.

This isn't like other teams. This isn't like other coaches. Almost everyone stopped by for a hug, a pat, the touch of Pinball, the most human coach there ever may be.

"I wish I could have done more," he said. "I wish we could have done more. It's a challenge knowing that Grey Cup is here for the first time in 15 years and we had a legitimate chance to get there and you don't get it done.

"You want to apologize to all those fans who have supported us, even in bad times, who had a chance to strut their stuff this week. You want to apologize (to owners Howard Sokolowski and David Cynamon) and all they've contributed. I feel like I let so many people down.

"This is as tough as it's ever been."

This was no way for Pinball Clemons to end his coaching career with the Argonauts. This was no way, in the third consecutive East final gone wrong, with his team tripping all over itself, at times looking ill-prepared, his vaunted special teams victimized, his offence pathetic, his legendary defence just ordinary.

This was no way for the Argos to depart, with the Toronto Grey Cup now being played with at least half the country having next to no rooting interest.

At least, the Argos generate some emotion: A little love, a little hate, the kind of feelings that brings football so much to life.

"Our opponent was better than us today," said Clemons of yesterday's 19-9 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. "Are they a better team? I'm not convinced."

He will stew about that in silence all week long as Grey Cup Week goes on -- hopefully with some life -- without him.

But first, he will meet with his players today.

"I don't know what in the world I'm going to say to these guys," he said. "What this team did this year was just phenomenal."

His voice then trailed off. There was no phenomenal yesterday. Not in the size of the crowd -- 33,467. Not with the unspeakably dreadful performance from quarterback Michael Bishop. Not even from a fast-break secondary that didn't pick off a single pass and was victimized too often at the least appropriate of times.

After winning an unexpected Grey Cup title in 2004, the Argos have managed to let three East finals get away from them in three straight disappointing autumns. Two of those games were here, at home. The loss yesterday stung the most.

"We didn't expect the season to end this abruptly," Pinball said.

Now, there is a decision to be made, if it hasn't been made already. Soon, Pinball Clemons will sit down with his wife, Diane, and with his children, and decide whether he will be coach again.

The betting here is that he will not. He never really wanted to coach, never had it in him. But once the bug bit, he took it places no one ever thought possible. He cared about his players as people. He got to know them. They got to love playing for him.

They won a Grey Cup three years ago with a team that had no business winning a Grey Cup and didn't win in '05 with a team that should have. This year, they should have represented the East, should have completed the home Grey Cup gamble.

But the coach had no answers for why it didn't happen.

"We thought we had enough," he said.

And so these losses hurt, hard enough to chase him away from a job he never wanted.

This was no way for Pinball Clemons to end his life on the Argos field, either as a player or coach. The man deserved another parade.

Hell, for him, I would have driven the float.


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