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Chad Owens breaks Pinball Clemons’ record, which seems perfectly appropriate

Andrew Bucholtz
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Chad Owens (R) was the perfect person to break "Pinball" Clemons' (L) long-standing record.

Records don't last forever, even those held by legends. As Steve Simmons writes, it's hard to think of a more legendary Argonaut than Michael "Pinball" Clemons, who spent his entire 12-year CFL playing career in Toronto and was a crucial part of Grey Cup teams in 1991, 1996 and 1997, then went on to serve as the franchise's head coach and led them to another championship in 2004. However, one of Clemons' most notable records, the CFL-high 3,840 combined yards he recorded in 1997, fell Thursday night when fellow Argonaut Chad Owens capped off a stellar campaign that saw him notch 3,863 combined yards. Despite only playing the first half, Owens picked up 64 yards on three kick returns and added another 39 on three catches (although he lost eight on a punt return), giving him enough to break the long-standing record.

[Slideshow: Chad Owens' record-breaking season]

Clemons was on hand to honour Owens in a special ceremony, though, and as you can see from the sideline interview TSN conducted with him right afterwards, Owens had plenty of good things to say about the man whose record he broke:

You'd expect a former player to be a little miffed when one of his hard-earned records fell. That wouldn't be in keeping with Clemons' legendary positivity, though, and he said he loved seeing a guy like Owens break the record:

And though Clemons' name will now appear under someone else's in the record books, the 47-year-old couldn't be happier for the man who surpassed him.

"I didn't lose a record; I gained a role model," Clemons said as a smile stretched across his face.

"These are important pillars in Argos history … (and) I know that Chad can do even more.

"He'll get 4,000 yards next year. That's my expectation."

In a lot of ways, it's perfect that Owens was the man to break Clemons' record. For one thing, Clemons has been so critical to the Argonauts' franchise in different roles over the last few decades. If his record had to fall, it's great that a player from his old team managed it. Beyond just the Double Blue connection, though, Owens has been an important member of the Argonauts on and off the field over the last three years, and his versatility in both arenas has evoked memories of Clemons. Clemons was such a unique player because he was a threat in a wide variety of ways; he could beat you as a running back, as a receiver out of the backfield, as a slotback, as a punt returner or as a kick returner. Owens started as an exciting punt returner/kick returner, but has slowly turned himself into a dominant receiver as well; he's recorded a league-high 1,328 receiving yards this season. He took versatility to a new level Thursday, too, tossing a 49-yard pass to Spencer Watt off a reverse in the first quarter. Owens' candour and intense community involvement off the field (including his appearance in a national ad for the War Amps) has also evoked memories of Clemons, and the way he's brought his family to town during the year shows how connected he's become to Toronto, similarly to how Clemons got more and more attached to the town over time. Thus, it's not surprising Owens sees the former Argonauts' star as someone to emulate:

"It was huge," Owens said of having the CFL Hall of Famer there as he accepted his piece of hardware. "He's been my biggest supporter from Day 1, and it just goes to show his character — here's someone who's on the verge of breaking his record and he's the first guy there to congratulate him.

"He's got so much passion for this game and for this organization, and I'm just trying to be like him."

The Flyin' Hawaiian and The Pinball Wizard are from dramatically different backgrounds (Clemons is from Dunedin, Florida and played at the Division I-AA (now FCS) College of William and Mary; Owens is from Honolulu, Hawaii, and played Division I football at the University of Hawaii in the Western Athletic Conference (with brief CFL presence Timmy Chang as his quarterback!), but both had brief NFL stints before heading north, and both found themselves becoming stars with the Argonauts. Owens' electrifying play on the field certainly evokes memories of Clemons, and he's got a chance to become the first non-quarterback since 2006 to win the league's Most Outstanding Player award, which Clemons took home in 1990. It's his outspoken, affable and involved off-field presence that perhaps most recalls Clemons, though, and that's why it was particularly special to see the two of them celebrating Owens' new record Thursday.

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