Pinball Clemons is truly a special man
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
|Argonauts quarterback Rick Ray with Pinball Clemons at the CN Tower in Toronto, Ont., Dec. 14, 2011. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - You could feel the hug, those arms, that emotion, from at least 110 yards away. Maybe more.
I know. Iíve been lucky enough to have had those arms wrapped around me, the wide smile beside you, the feeling of true friendship, for that instant, that moment, that time, making you feel better about yourself.
The way only Pinball Clemons can.
When they stopped the Canadian Football League game to celebrate Chad Owens establishing the record for most all-purpose yardage in a football season, even with the celebration being at least one play late, it didnít seem all that important that CFL commissioner Mark Cohon was standing there or Argos president Chris Rudge was on the field and while it was so very nice that his wife and three children were there to take part in the moment, snapping photographs, what breathed some much life into the celebration was the presence of Pinball, the former Argos coach, Argos star, still an occasional Argos spokesman and the one Argo of his generation to resonate beyond his league, his team, his town.
There is within Pinball Clemons so much Toronto history. He coached the last Argos team to win the Grey Cup. He played on the three previous teams that won. Who can say that from any team, any town?
He has been a thread from generation to generation from champion to champion to champion ó and now he is one record shy. And he couldnít be happier for suddenly being No. 2.
Owens now has the mark ó three thousand eight hundred and sixty three yards. It is a mammoth accomplishment. Even more significant for a team that has been offensively challenged so much of Scott Milanovichís first season as coach. The number has never been done in professional football before. It can never be done in the NFL where seasons are two games shorter. But who knows when and if it will ever be bettered again on the wide CFL field.
Owens, the little big man, has done it through the air and on the ground and with a return game that has been electric and erratic and last night he added to that by throwing a long completion to Spencer Watt in the first quarter against the cursed Tiger Cats. Stylistically different from Clemons, who was more running back and less downfield receiver, more consistent but less explosive, Owens becomes the second Argo in recent memory to have a game stopped in mid-session for a record-breaking presentation.
It happened to Damon Allen, who had Bobbleheads given out that didnít look a thing like him last night, when he became the all-time passing yards leaders in professional football. You donít get to experience this kind of historical moment often in the life of any sporting franchise.
But somehow itís better because Pinball is there to share it with. Somehow itís better because there is that natural sincerity to his ways.
This isnít anything like the annual celebration of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who crack open a bottle every football season when the last of the unbeaten teams is no longer undefeated. And their record season remains singular.
Pinball wanted to see his record happen here. While no longer part of Argos management, he remains part of just about everything else that is Argo. He is still the face, the smile, the voice, the one Argo who can always draw a crowd, the one you want to hang with.
In fact, it was Pinballís rather astute wife, Diane, who turned to her husband in Owens first season in Toronto and said, ďHeís going to be one to break your record and youíre going to be the first person there to congratulate him.Ē
Diane was half right. Owens did break the record. But he wasnít first to get to Owens. The Argos, like those running game ops, were a play late on the Owens celebration. Owens caught what looked like a touchdown pass (it wasnít) but the yardage had him celebrating in the end zone, his teammates lifting him toward the Rogers Centre roof and his right arm pointing to the sky in celebration.
A few seconds later, the dignitaries stood near the Argos logo at centre field. The commissioner, the president and the all-time Argo without portfolio. It was a moment to remember, a hug everyone felt. The best hug ever: A record no one will ever take from Pinball.