October 25, 2019

Hogan: Argos fans truly appreciated

One grew up on Long Island, the other in Dunedin Florida. One was exposed to the CFL in his mid-20s as a player, the other in his early 50s as an executive, yet both have come to not only appreciate, but embrace the sport of Canadian football.

This Saturday is Fan Appreciation Day, as the Toronto Argonauts host Ottawa (4:00, BMO Field). Those in attendance will each receive an Argos lunch bag, and will be eligible for plenty of prizes with one lucky fan receiving a pair of 2020 season tickets.

While those material things are easily identifiable, the level of appreciation the management team has for the fans isn’t always as visible, but it runs much deeper than one may think.

Michael Clemons is seldom at a loss for words. That rare instance occurred when Argonauts.ca asked the newly appointed general manager what he appreciated about Argo fans. He searched for the proper words, and even once they were found, he had trouble assembling them in the proper order.

When he finally did, and after many pauses, the emotion still flowed more freely than the words.

“They have been the biggest support of my adult life from a work standpoint,” said a suddenly overwhelmed Clemons. “They have been the biggest part of it, not simply by being present, but the additional encouragement and support they’ve given me in everything that I do, from football to philanthropy. Ultimately, they are like family. They are my extended family.”

It appeared that the man who became a Canadian citizen in 2015 was about to finish his thought at that point, but the question obviously hit a nerve. It brought him back to 1989, when he first donned Double Blue as a player, finding himself a long way from his Florida home.

“When you come to a place to play and it happens to be a different country, the access to family can be limited, in my case significantly so. Our fan base has become my extended family in more ways than one, and that includes many of them who have been part of personal events and personal things that have happened in my life. They have come to my house, and I’ve been to theirs.”

While the love affair between fans and “Pinball” was immediate and intense, he’s had 30 years to cultivate those relationships and has done so remarkably well.  By that comparison, Bill Manning is a newbie.

The native of Massapequa, New York arrived in Toronto in October 2015 to join Toronto FC as their club president. He’d take over his current dual Double Blue/Reds portfolio in early 2018 after MLSE purchased the Argos.

Though he has a background as an All-American NCAA and pro soccer player, Manning has always been a football fan, and for four seasons worked in the front office with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Like Clemons, he cut his teeth watching four-down football, but has truly become an enthusiast of our game, and an even bigger fan of Argo supporters and their intense loyalty to the team.

“We’ve had a difficult season at 3-13,” said a straightforward Manning, “To see people hanging in there, still behind us, and still having the belief that this Double Blue family is real, and to be with us through thick and thin gives us reason to believe in ourselves. They want to be a part of us when we ascend back up. Our goal is to have a building that is full, and the people that are here with us now, hopefully their energy continues to grow. We really appreciate that support.”

Manning’s passion for the team is legitimate. He shows a great deal of concern for the players wellbeing and wants to make sure that they’re treated in the best way possible. He has become the patriarch of the family, and it’s that kind of Double Blue bond that he’s grown to love.

“For a lot of the fans, their dad used to bring them to the games,” he told Argonauts.ca. “They were interested in football at a young age because it was a family thing. We’re going to try and build on that and try to continue that family tradition. We also have to start winning football games and give them something to cheer about.”

Manning and Clemons have a developed a genuine affinity for one another. The GM has a similar relationship-based message for the faithful as the club looks to turn the corner – Pull Together.

“The real message going forward is not any type of demand, but a thank you,” said a humble Clemons. “Thank you for your commitment in the past. We do hope that you will be there alongside of us. Our desire is to build it right and that starts at the core, with the way we treat people. We want you to know that we love you, we appreciate you, and we literally could not do it without you.”

From many sports executives that would seem like lip service, but anyone who has ever encountered a Michael Clemons moment knows it’s sincere. Manning is still a stranger to most, especially in comparison to the iconic No. 31, but his dedication and passion towards the franchise is evident to anyone who spends time with the club president.

The combination is poised to turn things around both on and off the field, and is extremely appreciative of the fans who have been there in the past and are ready to join the ride back to the top.