TORONTO — Mike (Pinball) Clemons came to Canada in 1989 expecting to stay a couple of years and get football out of his system. Some 27 years later, he’s a Canadian citizen and will soon be a member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Clemons, 51, was among six athletes named for induction Tuesday. The others were Hockey Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier, world champion curler Colleen Jones, Paralympian Stephanie Dixon, cross-country skier/kayaker Sue Holloway and short-track speedskater Annie Perreault.
Dr. Frank Hayden, who created the Special Olympics, will enter as a builder. The formal induction ceremony is set for Nov. 1.
Clemons joined the Toronto Argonauts after one season with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. The five-foot-seven 170-pound running back wasn’t expecting to stay long.
"I played one year in the NFL and had a job with Honeywell, and they were going to pay for me to get my MBA and so I had life figured out," Clemons said. "But I couldn’t get this football thing out of me so I said, ‘I’m going to come up here and play a couple of years and get it out of my system.’
"So, this is a couple of years later right?"
Clemons played 12 seasons in Toronto, winning three Grey Cups (1991, ’96 and ’97). The two-time CFL all-star was the league’s outstanding player in 1990 after accumulating a league-record 3,300 all-purpose yards.
Former Argos coach Bob O’Billovich gave Clemons his nickname because of his shifty running style and ability to bounce off tackles. Clemons retired in 2000 as the CFL’s all-time leader in combined yards (25,438).
However, he wasn’t finished with football as Clemons later assumed Toronto’s head-coaching duties. He became the CFL’s first black head coach to win a Grey Cup (2004) and left the sidelines three years later with a 68-55-1 record — the second-most victories in club history behind O’Billovich (89) — and remains with the Argos as vice-chair.
Clemons received the Order of Ontario in 2001 and is a member of both the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. The Argos have retired his No. 31 and last year he became a Canadian citizen.
The always upbeat Clemons was all smiles when introduced as the first inductee but became emotional discussing the influence his mother, Anna Maria Bryant, had on him as a single parent.
"She is more responsible than I am for me receiving this great honour," Clemons said. "She sacrificed everything for me to be able to thrive in life.
"Having a wife of 23 years and three girls, my life is filled with these wonderful, powerful women and to share the stage with four here is absolutely amazing. So, I just want to send a shoutout, ‘Girl power."’
Trottier, 59, won four Stanley Cups with a New York Islanders team that dominated the NHL in the early 1980s. He added two more with the Pittsburgh Penguins and was an assistant coach with the Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche in 2001.
The nine-time all-star was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997 but called Tuesday’s induction "probably my highest honour as an individual and athlete."
"It’s wonderful to be recognized by your home country," said the native of Val Marie, Sask. "I was born here, I was raised here, Canada will always be home.
"To be able to win with two different teams and two organizations and so many wonderful athletes who were not only great teammates but great friends who remain great friends today … it was a magical ride."
Jones, 56, led Canada to world women’s curling titles in 2001 and 2004 and skipped her Halifax rink to six Canadian women’s championships. She earned an unprecedented four straight national titles (2001-’04) and a record 138 wins as a skip.
Dixon, of Brampton, Ont., was born without her right hip and leg but the three-time Paralympian captured 19 Paralympic medals (seven gold, 10 silver, two bronze) and seven Parapan American medals (six gold, one silver). She won five swimming gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics and added Paralympic golds in the S9 100-metre backstroke in 2004 and 2008.
Perreault, 44, a three-time Olympian from Rock Forest, Que., won four world championships (1990, 1991, 1992 and 1997) with the Canadian women’s 3,000-metre relay team. She captured Olympic gold at the 1992 Albertville Games (3,000-metre relay) and ’98 Nagano Games (500 metres).
Holloway, 60, of Halifax, became the first woman to compete in two Olympics in the same year when she appeared in the 1976 Summer Games (canoe) and Winter Games (cross-country skiing). She was named Canada’s flag-bearer for the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow but was denied that chance when Canada boycotted the competition.
Holloway won silver and bronze in kayaking at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. She was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1986.
Hayden, a Windsor, Ont., native, founded the Special Olympics in the late 1960s and later created Special Olympics International. Today, over 4.4 million athletes from more than 170 countries compete in the Special Olympics.
In 1997, Hayden was made an honorary and permanent member of the Canadian Olympic Association. He was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2000 and a member of the Order of Ontario in 2010.