HAMILTON – It’s taken nearly eight years, but Mike (Pinball) Clemons can finally call himself a Hall of Famer.
Professional football’s most dynamic special-teams star is headed to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. And he’s just one member of a star-studded class of 2008.
Former star quarterback Doug Flutie, CFL rushing leader Mike Pringle and all-star offensive lineman John Bonk were also among the players named to the Hall on Wednesday while former Saskatchewan Roughriders president Tom Shepherd will be enshrined as a builder at ceremony in September.
Clemons appeared a slam-dunk selection when he retired as a player in 2000 to become the Toronto Argonauts head coach. But unlike Pringle, who’s getting in just four years after retiring, Clemons had to wait twice as long before getting the call.
There was a huge outcry last year when Clemons was bypassed but Clemons says he never felt snubbed.
“You might find it odd but I don’t know that I truly expected it because I just loved the game,” Clemons said during a news conference. “I do get all the numbers stuff . . . but you know what, I was just doing what I loved to do.
“I think it’s an insult to expect anything out of something that has given me so much. What else am I looking for?”
Flutie said entering the Hall of Fame with Clemons and Pringle – all-star players he played both with and against – makes the honour very special.
“Pinball and I played together and had the experience in Toronto together,” he said via conference call. “Mike Pringle at that time was the premiere running back in the league.
“Definitely the fact they were my peers and have shared some of those experiences through those years with them makes it more special.”
“I know the guys I’m being inducted with, which makes it more special,” he said. “It’s just good to be a part of it.”
Clemons, who earned the Pinball moniker from former Argos head coach Bob O’Billovich for his knack of bouncing off tacklers, joined the Argos in ’89 and played 12 seasons before becoming the team’s head coach. He was promoted to president following the ’01 season but returned to the sidelines in 2002 after Gary Etcheverry was fired. He remained Toronto’s head coach through the ’07 campaign before becoming the franchise’s chief operating officer.
The five-foot-five native of Clearwater, Fla., truly excelled in a big man’s game. He holds the pro football record for single-season all-purpose yards (3,840, set in ’97) as well as the career mark (25, 438). He captured three Grey Cup titles as a player (’91, ’96 and ’97) and another as a coach in ’04, becoming the first black head coach ever to win the CFL championship. Clemons was twice named a CFL all-star as a player and was seven times nominated for the league’s coach-of-the-year honour.
Clemons’ bubbly personality and tireless community work, along with his football prowess, have combined to make him one of Toronto’s most popular and recognized athletes. Twice he captured the Tom Pate award for outstanding community service.
And now, he’s part of one of the strongest Hall of Fame induction classes ever.
Flutie spent time with B.C., Calgary and Toronto from 1990 through ’97 and captured the league’s outstanding player award an unprecedented six times. He played on three Grey Cup-winning teams, including consecutive championship squads with the Argos in ’96 and ’97 before leaving for the NFL.
A Heisman Trophy winner while at Boston College, Flutie still holds CFL single-season records for completions (466), yards (6,619) and touchdowns (48) and in 2006 was voted the top player in league history in a TSN poll. And last year, he was inducted into both the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame (the first non-Canadian to do so) and the U.S. College Football Hall of Fame.
After bouncing around the league for a few years, Pringle established himself as a premiere tailback in Montreal. A physical and punishing inside rusher, Pringle ran for a league-record 2,065 yards in ’98 and helped the Als reach the Grey Cup in 2000 and 2002 – winning the latter showdown against Edmonton.
Pringle, who also won a Grey Cup with Baltimore in ’95, signed with the Eskimos in ’03 and not only helped the club win the Grey Cup that year but eventually surpassed George Reed as the CFL’s most prolific rusher. Pringle retired following the ’04 season with 16,425 career yards. He later re-signed with Montreal to retire as an Alouette.
Pringle was named a CFL all-star seven times and captured the league’s outstanding player award in ’95 and ’98. He says he’ll always be grateful for being given a chance to play pro football in Canada.
“This is the country that gave me a chance to display my talent,” he said. “This is my second home.”
Bonk, a Hamilton native, spent 13 years in the CFL with the hometown Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg.
Bonk said being inducted into the Hall of Fame is certainly a heady accomplishment for a kid who grew up selling hotdogs at Ticats home games.
“During that time I know there was a lot of people that probably got too many hotdogs, not enough hotdogs, too much change and not enough change because, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t too interested in selling hotdogs,” he said. “What I focused in on as a 12-year-old was watching the Hamilton Tiger-Cats playing.”
He began his pro career as a linebacker, but switched to centre with the Blue Bombers and didn’t miss a regular-season game between ’73 and ’85 – a stretch of 202 contests – before a neck injury eventually forced him to retire. Bonk was a four-time CFL all-star and the league’s top lineman in ’84, the year he helped the Blue Bombers win the Grey Cup.
Shepherd began his involvement with the Roughriders in ’66, serving as a club director from from 1980 to 2005. He was also the club’s president and CFL governor from 1987 to 1989 and worked with Regina’s Grey Cup committees in 1995 and 2003. He also was the director and treasurer of the Regina Rams from 1970 to 1976.
“I’ve always been lucky in life,” Shepherd said. “To think I’d be inducted into the Hall of Fame for doing something I loved, but to get inducted with the greats of Flutie, Pinball, John and Mike, it’s just a double honour.”