Toronto Argonauts defensive end Shawn Lemon had a front row seat to the oratory power that is Michael “Pinball” Clemons on Wednesday. It is, as it turns out, not just vocal heat or emotional heat but actual physical heat.
“I was cold before practice started but once Pinball started talking, that just went away,” Lemon said. “It’s not about football but it is about football. It’s about life and you can apply it how you want to apply it. That’s why his speeches are so powerful.”
A Hall-of-Fame player and a Grey Cup-winning coach turned special advisor who has spent more than 25-years with the club, Clemons addressed the team during their on-field session at Downsview at the behest of head coach Marc Trestman. With the team set to face the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Sunday’s East Final at BMO Field, utilizing Clemons’ unique motivational gifts makes sense.
“The coaching staff has been brilliant here, the leadership has been amazing and gotten us to that point so you’re really just reinforcing things,” Clemons said. “The biggest thing is we want to let them know that we are with them. It is imperative that the guys know that you care.”
Clemons has also been making the rounds as one of the club’s most recognizable pitchmen as the Argonauts try and fill BMO Field for the first home playoff date of their two-year tenure at the stadium. The Argos averaged less than 14,000 fans during the regular season, a CFL low, but the marketing blitz has led to increased demand for tickets.
More than 20,000 tickets have already been sold for the game and it will be the Argos biggest crowd ever at BMO. A sellout – 26,000 – remains a possibility.
“The response from our fans and the city of Toronto has been amazing,” president Michael Copeland. “The overwhelming majority of sales have come from Argos fans across the GTA.”
The Argonauts have also launched a new “Pinball section” where fans can sit with Clemons, who has eschewed the warm comfort of a suite to sit among what are likely to be the semi-frigid masses. This comes as no surprise to Lemon, who says Clemons’ ability to relate to people is what gives his motivational talks the air of authenticity they need to be effective with professional athletes who have heard a lot of speeches.
“I was leaving practice on Tuesday and Pinball is walking in with food for the coaches because he knew they were going to be here late,” Lemon said. “He carries equipment bags after the game, no cameras around. That’s just who he is.”
Clemons was with the club during the Wayne Gretzky-John Candy ownership era – some of the team’s brightest days – and has watched as the club faded from relevance in Toronto. Relentlessly positive by nature, Clemons sees Sunday’s East Final as an opportunity.
“There’s a saying ‘people are too impatient to be smart.’ Building takes time,” he said. “This game is an important step but it doesn’t solve things, the turnaround isn’t complete. But there’s tremendous traction and momentum.”
Notes: Toronto linebacker Marcus Ball practiced on Wednesday and looks to be good to go on Sunday… Brendon LaBatte, who was named Saskatchewan’s Most Outstanding Lineman this season, practiced on Wednesday after missing the Eastern semi-final due to injury… instead of returning to Regina, the Riders elected to stay in Ottawa after beating the Redblacks last Sunday and are practicing at Carleton University.