Ottawa Rough Riders

Tom Clements - Quarterback - 1975-87 - Notre Dame


Catching up with Tom Clements - John F. Molinaro, CBC Sports Online - 16-11-2006

It is one of the most famous plays in CFL history.

The scene: the 1976 Grey Cup. A frosty Toronto night. Twenty-eight seconds left in the fourth quarter. Ottawa trailing Saskatchewan 20-16.

Ottawa quarterback Tom Clements dropped back from the Saskatchewan 24-yard line when he noticed tight end Tony Gabriel had slipped behind the secondary, and threw a perfect spiral in the back of the end zone to Gabriel, who reeled it in.

Pandemonium ensued as Gabriel was mobbed by teammates and fans, and Ottawa (then called the Rough Riders) held on for a 23-20 victory.

Gabriel finished with seven receptions, but nothing in his 11-year, Hall of Fame career came close to "the catch." Ditto for Clements, a fellow Hall of Famer.

Thirty years later, Clements's memories of that Grey Cup victory are foggy, but he remembers with clarity how he deviated from the Ottawa playbook.

"Someone was coming onto the field with a play from the sideline and I had a play in mind, so I waved him off the field and called the play to Tony, and fortunately it worked," Clements told CBC Sports Online this week.


"Tony had a very good game that night; he always had the knack of getting open at the right time.


"It was a simple pattern, [Saskatchewan] reacted to one of the outside receivers and that opened up the area in the end zone behind that wide receiver where Tony was able to get to," added Clements, who was named that Grey Cup's most outstanding offensive player.

Back with the Pack

Today, the CFL legend is a quarterback coach with the NFL's Green Bay Packers, and his job includes working with future Hall of Famer Brett Favre.

"He's a great player," Clements said. "He's a fun guy to be around. He's seen it all and he enjoys the game. He enjoys practices, he has a good sense of humour and when it's time to play football, he plays football."

Clements knows all about the playing side of the game.

Performing under pressure came naturally to the master pivot, regarded as one the best quarterbacks ever in the CFL.

A product of Notre Dame, Clements led the Fighting Irish to a national championship in 1973 and was an All-American in 1974, the same year he finished fourth in balloting for the Heisman Trophy as the top college football player in the United States.

He came to Canada in 1975 and was voted the CFL's rookie of the year after guiding Ottawa to first place in the East Division. A year later, he was playing in the Grey Cup.

"It was a lot of fun. At the time I didn't realize how special it was to be there because it took me a long time to get back. It was a long dry spell there," Clements said.

"We had a good team in Ottawa. We had a good team in 1975 and we carried it on in the next season. We were underdogs going into [the 1976 Grey Cup game], so we were real loose. Everyone was expecting Saskatchewan to win. It was a tight game, but fortunately we made some plays at the end to help us win the game."

Rejoins Ticats after NFL stint

Clements split the 1979 season between Saskatchewan and Hamilton and, after a failed stint in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, he returned to Canada in 1981, rejoining the Tiger-Cats.

Clements landed in Winnipeg in 1983 when the Ticats traded him to the Blue Bombers for fellow quarterback Dieter Brock.

The two highly touted signal callers went toe to toe in the 1984 Grey Cup game when the Ticats and Blue Bombers met in Edmonton. Winnipeg trounced Hamilton 47-17 to win its first Grey Cup in 22 years, and for the second time in his career, Clements was voted the game's most outstanding offensive player.

"We were the favourites and Hamilton was the underdog," recalled Clements. "We didn't start off very well. I threw a couple of interceptions and we fell behind. But then the defence made a couple of plays that got us the ball and we were able to score some points.

"Once that happened, we started playing better and better on offence and ended up winning pretty handily."

Clements played three more seasons in Winnipeg before walking away from the game at the end of the 1987 campaign. The timing of his retirement shocked many Blue Bombers fans, as he was named the league MVP that season.

"It was primarily for family reasons. My oldest child was school aged my wife was working down in Chicago, so my last year there I had my kids with me in the summertime, but then once school started, they had to leave and go back to Chicago to start school," explained Clements.

"I was up [in Winnipeg] alone without my family for three months and I didn't want to go through that again. I still felt I had a couple of years to play, but I also felt that was a good time to call it quits."

An all-time Bombers great in Hall of Fame

During his 12 seasons in Canada, Clements completed 2,807 passes for 39,041 yards and 252 touchdowns with an impressive 60.3 per cent completion rate.

He was enshrined into the CFL's Hall of Fame in 1994. Last year, in conjunction with the Blue Bombers' 75th anniversary, he was selected among Winnipeg's 20 all-time greatest players.

While proud of his accomplishments north of the border, Clements said he wouldn't have been half as successful if not for the support of his teammates.

"I played with a lot of great players. If you talk to any quarterback who's had some success, they'll tell you that you have to be surrounded by good people, because if you're not, it makes it very difficult," Clements said.

"There were periods in my career when I was with some teams that were either young or didn't have quite the talent as other teams I was on, and it makes it difficult. But when you're surrounded by good players on offence and defence, then it helps each player in having a successful season."


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-- statistics --



Tom Clements   Notre Dame      
Yr Team Att Cmp Yds Pct. TD Int Lg
1975 Ott 252 144 2,013 57.1 13 13 56
1976 Ott 327 196 3,856 59.9 20 13 75
1977 Ott 298 182 2,804 61.1 16 16 82
1978 Ott 239 152 1,990 63.6 17 12 80
1979 Ssk 159 81 994 50.9 2 11 49
Ham 211 130 1,809 61.6 10 7 52
1980 Played in NFL          
1981 Ham 523 301 4,536 57.6 27 23 81
1982 Ham 546 356 4,706 65.2 26 23 72
1983 Ham 323 190 2,416 58.8 19 15 86
Wpg 60 30 424 50.0 2 1 46
1984 Wpg 446 279 3,845 62.6 29 22 86
1985 Wpg 425 257 3,697 60.5 18 17 105
1986 Wpg 256 173 2,265 67.6 18 11 49
1987 Wpg 592 336 4,686 56.8 35 30 72
Total 12 4,657 2,807 40,041 60.3 252 214 105


Yr Team C Yds Avg Lg TD
1975 Ott 28 87 3.1 13 0
1976 Ott 37 260 7.0 30 4
1977 Ott 59 356 6.0 39 1
1978 Ott 32 159 5.0 20 0
1979 Ssk 22 101 4.6 18 0
Ham 22 145 6.6 21 1
1980 Played in NFL      
1981 Ham 32 178 5.6 26 1
1982 Ham 34 137 4.0 42 2
1983 Ham 12 18 1.5 8 0
Wpg 8 13 1.6 7 0
1984 Wpg 27 101 3.7 15 1
1985 Wpg 11 16 1.5 17 1
1986 Wpg 19 48 2.5 12 1
1987 Wpg 31 44 1.4 8 2
Total 12 374 1,663 4.4 42 14