TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts had a special guest at practice on Friday — former star player and coach Michael (Pinball) Clemons.
Clemons addressed the Argonauts for about 20 minutes on the field at Rogers Centre at the end of practice with what some said was a moving, motivational speech.
The Argonauts will play host to the Calgary Stampeders in the 100th Grey Cup on Sunday.
“This was about making them understand the significance of the moment and to resonate on that and let that build,” said Clemons. “This was not about getting them too excited.
“This game is the great gap in sports — the difference between winning and losing a championship game. Winning and then getting back to a championship game is the greatest gap in sports, so understand that, take control of that moment and make sure that your best three hours this weekend are on the field.”
At times, the 47-year-old Clemons led the Argonauts in rousing chants, and at others, their heads were bowed as though in prayer. He later had them leave their helmets behind and put their arms around each others’ shoulders as he spoke, telling them they need to be a family and lean on each other in the CFL championship game.
“The premise is that you may never get a chance again, and you’ll never get another chance at this game,” said fullback Jeff Johnson, who played under Clemons on the Argonauts’ 2004 Grey Cup-winning team. “It’s the biggest game in CFL history.
“Down the road, they’ll look back at the first Grey Cup and the 100th Grey Cup. We want to make history. We’re representing the entire city and we have to be proud of that.”
Quarterback Ricky Ray said that every time Clemons speaks to the team, he does “a good job of getting us focused and pumped up and ready to go. It’s been working for us.”
Clemons was a receiver and pint-sized kick returner who was named the CFL’s Outstanding player in 1990. In his 12 seasons as a player, all with Toronto, he won Grey Cups in 1991, 1996 and 1997. He won a fourth as a coach.
He was later CEO and vice chairman of the team, but currently has no specific title.
But coach Scott Milanovich said Clemons has a standing invitation to speak to the team.
He took it up twice before this season. Once before a road victory in Winnipeg and again before a crucial win at Saskatchewan that secured Toronto’s playoff berth.
“After that I started thinking ‘every time Pinball comes to practice, we win,’ so I shot him a text,” said Milanovich. “I’m a little superstitious, I guess.”