American Football Database
Michael "Pinball" Clemons
File:Pinball clemons.jpg
No. 31     
Personal information
Date of birth: (1965-01-15) January 15, 1965 (age 57)
Place of birth: Dunedin, Florida
Career information
No regular season or postseason appearances
Career history
Roster status: Retired
Career highlights and awards
  • N/A
Canadian Football Hall of Fame

Michael Lutrell "Pinball" Clemons, O.Ont (born January 15, 1965) is the current Vice-Chair for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. Clemons also played with the Argos for twelve seasons, and twice served as their head coach. His No. 31 jersey is one of only four that has been retired by the Argos. He is one of their most famous former players and also one of the most popular professional athletes in the history of Toronto. Clemons has stated that he feels CFL football is the best football in the world.[1] Clemons is 5 ft 6 in (167 cm) tall and weighs 170 pounds (77 kg).

College career

Clemons graduated with an economics degree from the College of William and Mary[2][3][4][5] where he played running back and return specialist on the football team, as well as playing soccer for a year. In his four-year college football career, he compiled 4,778 all-purpose yards and was named a Division I-AA all-American.

Professional football career

In 1987, Clemons was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League. During the 1987 NFL season, Clemons played in eight games, predominantly as a punt returner, where he collected 19 returns for 162 yards.

When Clemons first joined the Toronto Argonauts in 1989, guest running backs coach Tom Cudney nicknamed him "Pinball" because of his running style. His diminutive size and extraordinary balance allowed him to bounce between defensive players much like a pinball inside a pinball machine. During home games, The Who song Pinball Wizard would play on the P.A. whenever Pinball was involved in a great play. In his first game with the Argonauts, Clemons was named the player of the game. In 1990, Clemons was awarded as the CFL most outstanding player after setting what was a single season record for all-purpose yards (3300). The following year, Clemons won his very first football championship as his Argonauts defeated the Calgary Stampeders to win the Grey Cup. Clemons would go on to win two more Grey Cups as a player when Doug Flutie led Argonauts won back-to-back titles during the 1996 & 1997 seasons. It was also in 1997 that Clemons surpassed his single season all-purpose yards record he set in 1990 by recording 3,840 all-purpose yards. This mark stood until 2012, when it was broken by Chad Owens. On September 15, 2000, Clemons played his last ever game as an Argonaut. During his 12 year playing career with the Argonauts, set many team records in the process, including career pass receptions (682), punt return yards (6,025), punt returns (610), punt return touchdowns (8), kickoff return yards (6,349), and kickoff returns (300). He also set single season single-season punt return yards (1,070 in 1997), punt returns (111 in 1997), and kickoff returns (49 in 1997). Clemons also amassed a career 25,438 combined yards during the regular season, a CFL record.

Coaching career

Clemons became head coach of the Toronto Argonauts upon ending his playing career on September 15 of the 2000 CFL season replacing John Huard who resigned as head coach of the team after compiling a 1–6–1 record. When offered the head coaching job by team general manager J. I. Albrecht, he was reluctant to accept it, wanting to spend more time with his family. According to Clemons, "it was an awkward situation. After saying no, they said do us the favour of going home and discussing it with your family. The burden was that this team, this organization, had given our family so much that Canada was going to be our home. The Argos had everything to do with my family becoming a part of this country. Because of all I had been given I decided it was my time to reciprocate."[6] After his playing in his last game, Clemons coached the Argos to 6 wins out of their remaining 8 games. In November, 2001, he was promoted to President of the Argonauts and relinquished his role as head coach in the process to Gary Etcheverry.

When Etcheverry was fired as head coach on September 17, 2002, Clemons returned as head coach on an interim basis for the remainder of the 2002 CFL season. Clemons was officially given the head coaching job again on December 17, 2002, while also relinquishing his role as team president. Clemons has been nominated for the Annis Stukus Trophy (awarded to the CFL's coach of the year) for six straight years (between 2002 and the 2007 CFL season) and has come up short each time.

Clemons also became the first black head coach to appear in a Grey Cup game in 2004 CFL season and would go on to be the first black head coach to win a Grey Cup championship during that same Grey Cup game, while also being the second ever to have guided his team to a pro-football championship in North America. (Darren Arbet of the San Jose SaberCats was the first to do so in 2002 with an ArenaBowl XVI victory.) After accomplishing this, Clemons downplayed the milestone achievement. "To tell you the truth, I don't know what it means to the first Black coach in the (Grey) Cup and to win it. I know that I can't do anything by myself, and on my own strength I'm very little good. Anything I accomplish has to be with the aid of individuals, and this team became like a family and is a family, it had very little to do with the colour of my skin".[7]

Clemons has the second most head coaching wins in Argonauts history with 68. Bob O'Billovich is first with 89. Clemons' record is 68–55–1 in the regular season, and a 6–5 playoff record (including 1–0 in Grey Cup games). As a coach, his nickname was often shortened to "Pinner" by his players.

Sports administrator

From November 2001 to September 2002, Clemons served as the team President. He ended his tenure as President to resume his second stint as the team's head coach. On December 4, 2007, Clemons stepped down as head coach of the Argonauts to become their new Chief Executive Officer. At the end of the 2008 Toronto Argonauts season, Clemons announced that he would no longer act in the day-to-day business of the organization and on May 6, 2009, Bob Nicholson was announced as the new president and chief executive officer of the Argonauts. On that same day, Clemons was appointed the Vice-Chair of the team. In his new role, Clemons will report to Nicholson as his special advisor, handling a range of duties including providing input and assistance with key sales and corporate partner programs, significant community initiatives, and brand and media relations.[8]

Personal life

Clemons was born in Dunedin, Florida to an 18-year-old single mother, Anna Marie Bryant, who had just graduated from a segregated high school.[7] His father, Willie Clemons, lived an hour and a half away from them while finishing up his university education and later became a school teacher.[6]

Clemons started playing football at age 8 with the Dunedin Golden Eagles, a youth organization co-ordinated by the Police Athletic League.[9]

Clemons and his mother lived in public housing across the street from the city's sewer plant until he was 14 years old.[6] At this point in Clemons' life, his mother married his stepfather, and would also become the first African-American to get an administrative job for the City of Dunedin.[6]

Clemons' mother was also a heavy influence in him becoming a devout Christian as she was also a clerk at a Baptist church in Dunedin.[6] Clemons and his family currently attend the Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario.

Clemons later founded a relationship with his father, Willie, during his college years.[6] Even then, the relationship between him and his father was more like a nephew to an uncle, being limited to visits during his family vacations down in Florida and regular phone calls.[10] Willie was also invited to the 2003 CFL Eastern Division semi-final game his son was coaching in Toronto vs. the B.C. Lions, marking the first time his father had actually seen him in any capacity with the Argonauts.[10] Shortly afterwards, his father died.[6]

Clemons is also a motivational speaker, making frequent public appearances throughout the community. He is also a partner of the children's brand Simply Kids, a line of diapers, baby food and healthcare products found in supermarkets across Canada and the United States.

File:Clemons at We Day Waterloo 2010.jpeg

Clemons speaking at We Day Waterloo 2010, a Free the Children event

Currently, Clemons resides in Oakville, Ontario with his wife, Diane (a native Floridian), and three daughters (who were all born in Canada) as a permanent resident of Canada. His oldest daughter, Rachel, is 17, his middle daughter Raven is 14, and his youngest daughter Rylie is now 9. Clemons has described himself (borrowing a quote from C.D. Howe) as an "American by birth but Canadian by choice".[11][12] It has been suggested that Clemons has remained an American citizen to rebuff any calls for him to run for political office, such as for mayor of Toronto.[13] Clemons was the subject of Pinball: The Making of a Canadian Hero (ISBN 978-0-470-83690-3) a biography written by Perry Lefko published in 2006.[14]

In April, 2007 he visited Calderstone Middle School in Brampton to help start a reading program.[15]

On August 21, 2007, Clemons founded the "Michael 'Pinball' Clemons Foundation" which is dedicated to helping disadvantaged youth.

On March 23, 2009, Clemons appeared on the CTV news @ 6 as a celebrity guest host to do the weather in celebration for Dave Devall's retirement. He is currently working with Marc Kielburger and Craig Kielburger, founders of Free the Children, in an initiative to build schools and clean water systems in Africa.[16][17]

On November 14, 2012, Clemons visited and gave a speech about life topics in Markham,Ontario for York Regional District School Board's annual QUEST Forum to promote Student Achievement and Well-Being.


  • CFL record for most all-purpose yards, All-Time Regular Season: 25,396 (19892000)[18]
  • Recorded over 5,000 career yards in rushing (5,232), pass receptions (7,015), kickoff returns (6,349), and punt returns (6,025)
  • Argonauts team records for career pass receptions (682), punt return yards (6,025), punt returns (610), punt return touchdowns (8), kickoff return yards (6,349), and kickoff returns (300)
  • Argonauts team records for single-season punt return yards (1,070 in 1997), punt returns (111 in 1997), and kickoff returns (49 in 1997)
  • Argonauts team record for single-game kickoff returns (8) on August 21, 1990, versus Edmonton Eskimos
  • CFL most outstanding player (1990)
  • Three-time Grey Cup champion as a player (1991, 1996, 1997)
  • One-time Grey Cup champion as a head coach (2004)
  • First black head coach to win a Grey Cup championship
  • Two-time CFL All-Star (1990, 1997)
  • Two-time Tom Pate Award winner (1993, 1996)
  • 1995 John Candy Memorial Award[19]
  • One-time Eastern Division Most Outstanding Player Trophy winner (1990)
  • Four-time Eastern Division All-Star (1990, 1993, 1994, 1997)
  • Order of Ontario (2001)
  • Voted one of the CFL's Top 50 players (#31) of the league's modern era by Canadian sports network TSN.
  • Was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
  • Retired number by the Toronto Argonauts (#31)


In 2012 in honour of the 100th Grey Cup, Canada Post used his image on a series of commemorative postage stamps. The image was also used on presentation posters and other materials to promote the Grey Cup game and other celebrations associated with the centennial.

CFL coaching record

Team Year Regular Season Post Season
Won Lost Ties Win % Finish Won Lost Result
TOR 2000 6 4 0 .600 4th in East Division (interim coach)
TOR 2001 7 11 0 .389 4th in East Division Missed Playoffs
TOR 2002 4 2 0 .666 2nd in East Division 1 1 Lost in Division Finals
TOR 2003 9 9 0 .500 2nd in East Division 1 1 Lost in Division Finals
TOR 2004 10 7 1 .583 2nd in East Division 3 0 Won Grey Cup
TOR 2005 11 7 0 .611 1st in East Division 0 1 Lost in Division Finals
TOR 2006 10 8 0 .556 2nd in East Division 1 1 Lost in Division Finals
TOR 2007 11 7 0 .611 1st in East Division 0 1 Lost in Division Finals
Total 68 55 1 .552 2 East Division
6 5 1 Grey Cup


  1. Chris Pope. "Pinball Clemons Bleeds the Double Blue". The Good Point. Retrieved November 12, 2008.
  2. "The best PR man in the CFL". Hamilton Spectator. September 17, 2008. Retrieved October 5, 2008.
  3. "Michael "Pinball" Clemons". Front Office & Football Operations. Toronto Argonauts Football Club. Retrieved October 5, 2008.
  4. "Michael "Pinball" Clemons". Hall of Famers. Canadian Football Hall of Fame.,%20Michael%20(Pinball). Retrieved October 100, 2008.
  5. Van der Voort, Jane (November 20, 2002). "DREAM JOB – Pinball Clemons: Passing back to the community". Toronto Sun. Retrieved October 5, 2008.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6
  7. 7.0 7.1 Perry Lefko, "Pinball: The Making of a Canadian Hero". (Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons Canada, 2006) p. 29
  8. "".
  9. Morgan, Nancy (September 16, 2001). "CFL's Clemons recalls growing up in Dunedin". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved October 5, 2008.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Perry Lefko, "Pinball: The Making of a Canadian Hero". (Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons Canada, 2006) p. 260
  11. "".
  13. Brunt, Stephen (November 16, 2007). "The most loved man in sports". Globe and Mail (Canada). Retrieved October 5, 2008.
  14. "Pinball: The Making of a Canadian Hero". John Wiley & Sons Canada. Retrieved October 5, 2008.
  15. "'Guy stuff' on the reading agenda for new dad, son club". News Releases. Peel District School Board. April 2, 2007. Retrieved October 5, 2008.
  18. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named cfl mcy
  19. Who's Who in Canadian Sport, Volume 4, p.81, Bob Ferguson, Fitzhenry and Whiteside Ltd., Markham, ON and Allston, MA, ISBN 1-55041-855-6

Further reading

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Tracy Ham
Succeeded by
Doug Flutie
Preceded by
Tom Higgins
Grey Cup winning Head Coach
92nd Grey Cup, 2004
Succeeded by
Danny Maciocia