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Cover Story – Michael “Pinball” Clemons – Sep/Oct2015

Cover Story - Michael "Pinball" Clemons - Sep/Oct2015

By Cece Scott
“I have more dreams than I have life left.”

If you’ve lived in the general vicinity of Toronto anytime during the last two decades, there’s a good chance you know of Pinball Clemons. At 5’6” tall and 170 pounds, Michael Pinball Clemons, pro football world record holder in all-purpose yards, CFL Hall of Famer, four-time Grey Cup Champion, (three as a player and one as coach), and only one of four jerseys retired by the Toronto Argonauts, (Jersey #31), is undoubtedly one of the Argos most famous all-time players.

Clemons is also one of Toronto’s most likeable and beloved athletes, which is saying a lot considering Toronto is one of North America’s most fan-crazed cities. When he entered the Rogers Centre as a flag bearer for the 2015 Pan Am Games Opening Ceremonies in Toronto this July, his star power, humbly worn, garnered colossal cheers from the sold-out crowd.

Clemons was nicknamed ‘Pinball’ by Argo coach Bob O’Billovich, who compared Clemons ability to spin, bounce and deke between players to that of a pinball; the name stuck. In fact, whenever Clemons made a successful play at an Argos home game, The Who’s rock classic “Pinball Wizard” was played boisterously loud for the crowd.

Between 1989-2000, Clemons amassed a record 25,438 regular season yards.

The definition of dapper in a grey and mauve pin-striped suit, accented by a purple pocket handkerchief, lilac shirt, purple paisley tie, and the coveted diamond-studded Grey Cup ring on his right hand, Clemons exudes an aura of enthusiasm that is akin to an electric current.

“Normal and my life don’t fit together,” Clemons says with an infectious laugh. “My routine is one of change and flexibility. I’m not in the same place very often, I’m constantly on the move. So I seek my normal through family, friends and my church.”

Clemons’ faith, which he credits his mother for instilling in him, is the underlying pin to everything he does. “I am a God-fearing man. I believe the greatest manifestation of God’s love is in how you treat people. It’s not the building, it’s the people. We rise by lifting up. It comes from my Mom; I had a very strong upbringing.”

Clemons, 50, is Vice Chair of the Toronto Argonauts as well as founder of the Michael Pinball Clemons Foundation, (, an organization that helps disadvantaged kids. Since 2007, the Foundation has built over 200 schools in Third World countries over the last five years alone.

“Of the markers in our lives, education is the number one determinant, the number one equalizer,” Clemons says. To Clemons, helping others by “giving a hand up, not a hand out” is what energizes and motivates him forward.

“The more energy I have, the more positive I am, the better off I am, as are the people around me,” Clemons says. “I believe people are the essence of life and whatever you give to people, whatever you project is what they give back to you. When you choose to adopt a positive attitude people respond in kind.”

For more information on the Michael Pinball Clemons Foundation, go


While the public Pinball is one of star power pizzazz, there is a quiet side to him that loves watching his wife, Diane, and his three girls, Rachel, 21, Raven, 17, and Rylie, 12, blossom in their endeavours.

“The most vital thing for me is to support my kids and my bride, to be there for them as they look to pave their own way,” Clemons says. “I love the time when I’m not ‘on’ and I can just relax. I went away to Haiti with the family to assist with the Free the Children organization. My oldest, Rachel, had so much empathy for the kids there, she was able to put herself in their shoes. Raven was excited about the underlying message of justice for people, especially women. And Rylie, all the kids follow her around, she is a kid magnet.”

As he enters his 50s, Clemons says he has made a commitment to himself to be in a more elite shape, physically.

“I drink more water, I weigh myself every day; although the last two weeks I haven’t because I need a new battery in my scale,” Clemons says with a hearty laugh. One of the things that has changed for Pinball since his former days of playing pro-ball is, he actually has to warm up before he starts an exercise regime.

“When all the other guys used to be stretching and warming up, I’d be going around talking, pretend stretching, yawning. When a dog sees a cat on the porch, does he stretch first? No! That was how I used to be, like a dog off the porch. Now, I have to idle a bit before I get going.” Clemons’ current schedule is the heaviest it has ever been, which hasn’t helped with the severe ankle sprain he garnered while playing basketball in the spring.

Many athletes, and a notable amount of high-profile celebrities, dread the prospect of growing older, but Pinball is definitely not in the camp of ageing athletes.

“I always enjoyed the concept of growing old,” Clemons says. “I’m not a yesterday guy. I don’t like looking back. As a young guy, I really admired the older guys in the community. They were just more comfortable in their skin. They took us to the convenience store and bought us a pop. It was such a different air. The placidness, the serenity, the cool comfortable confidence that comes with age, knowing who you are.”

Clemons also feels that getting older alleviates the need to conquer the world, although in reality he is still of that personal mindset. “There is a confidence that comes with having been there before, not allowing anything to throw you off course. There is less anxiety and more process.”

Clemons thinks that losing touch with youth is one of the stereotypes of ageing. “I do believe that as we age we speak a different language,” Clemons says. “There are things that my kids say, artists that my kids listen to, that I can’t relate to anymore.” That being said, Clemons is not in the least averse to hitting the dance floor, where he says he can still hold his ground.

“The whole attitude thing is crucial; how we live life, how we see things, I really do believe it’s a choice. I don’t need to try to be 19 years old again. If we are looking back, we are not enjoying today. At 50, you don’t need to break dance.”