Great CFL Pivots: Tom Clements

Great CFL Pivots: Tom Clements
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Tom Clements – CFL Great

There has been some discussion on the CFL site recently about quarterbacks. The current best, and the best five of all time have been up for debate.

But a lot of great performers have been missing from these lists. Particularly the top five list. The league has been around for 62 years, and the Canadian game for over a century, so any limited list will of course miss off some greats.

Plus there is the conisderation of how much the game has changed down the years. Statisitics can only tell so much of the story.

We started with Ron Lancaster, moved on to Tom Wilkinson, and Tracy Ham. Now it is time to look at a stalwart of the league from 1975-87, Tom Clements.

Before the CFL

Clements was a two sport star at Canevin High School in Pittsburgh. In fact he was pretty good at both football and basketball. So much so that in 1971 he was choosing between playing football for Notre Dame or basketball for North Carolina.

That level of prowess has seen him described as “one of Western Pennsylvania’s best athletes ever.”

Obviously Tom Clements chose football. He went to Notre Dame. Managing the small matter of leading the Fighting Irish to a 1973 Sugar Bowl New Year’s Eve win against Alabama that secured the national championship.

In 1974 he finished fourth in the Heisman voting and was named an All-American.

A fine time in Ottawa

Clements found success in Ottawa Image from

On turing pro, Clements headed north to play for the Ottawa Rough Riders. The Riders had been looking for a leader under centre since the retirment of the legenday Russ Jackson.

What they found in 1975 was a double whammy. Clements was paired with Condredge Holloway to give the Rough Riders a formidable 1-2 punch.

Clements was a pass first option, whilst Holloway offered more scrambling opportuinities. It was a good combination and Clements went on to win the Outstanding Rookie in the CFL for the 1975 season. In fact, Tom stayed in Ottawa for four seasons from 1975 to 1978, winning East All-Star honours in his first three seasons.

The high point would come in 1976 with ‘The Catch‘ working its way into CFL folklore. The Rough Riders trailed Saskatchewan 20-16 in the Grey Cup late in the fourth quarter.

With 20 seconds left and stationed on the Saskatchewan 24 yard line, Ottawa threw for the end zone. Tony Gabriel slipped behind the Saskatchewan secondary and reeled in QB Tom Clements’ throw in the back of the end zone.

This would prove to be the last Grey Cup title for the city of Ottawa until the RedBlacks delivered another in a classic title game in 2016.

Moving on from Ottawa

Despite the fine showing in Ottawa, in May 1979 the team traded him to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for DB Steve Dennis, SB Bob O’Doherty and a second round pick in the CFL college draft.

He never settled with the green Riders having his worst CFL season in 1979 throwing 11 picks against just 2 TD’s. His CFL rights were traded again and he was picked up by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

By the end of the season he was briefly on the roster of the Kansas City Chiefs. That was only as inusrance as a third stringer however. So in 1981 he was back in the CFL with the tabbies. Clements returned to the league and form with a splash. Throwing for 4,536 yards and 27 touchdowns in ’81 and then 4,706 yards and 26 touhdowns in 1983. He was an Eastern All-Star and showing the kind of form that had proved so successful in Ottawa.

Switching Pivots – Clements & Brock

In 1983, Hamilton and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers traded QB’s. The move saw Hamilton trade Clements to Winnipeg in September as a swap for Hall of Fame QB Dieter Brock.

As fate would have it, Clements and Brock would lead their respective teams to the 1984 Grey Cup. Things started badly for Clements and the Blue Bombers. Tom was playing with an injured rib and two ealry picks seemed to suggest he would struggle with it.

However, he settled down and Winnipeg delivered a dominating win. It was Winnipeg’s first Grey Cup since 1962. Clements had his second Grey Cup and for the Blue Bombers the trade had been a success.

Clements finished out his career with Winnipeg, playing four seasons with the Bombers from 1984 to 1987. In 1986, he completed 173 of 256 passes setting a new completion percentage record (67.5). He was also named the the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 1987 when he threw for 4,686 yards and 35 touchdowns.

Most Outstanding rookine in his first year in the league. Two Grey Cups, and Most Outstanding player in his final year. Tom Clements had quite the career arc in a CFL career which saw him complete 2,807 passes for 39,041 yards and 252 touchdowns.

A career that would ultimately see him elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

After the Gridiron

Clements had graduated from Notre Dame with a Law Degree in 1986 while still playing in the CFL. Following his retirement Clements practiced law for five years in Chicago and was an Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at his alma mater in 1994.

However when he stepped away from the field his main career has been on the sidelines. In 1992, Clements was hired as quarterbacks coach for Notre Dame, where he served until 1995.

In 1997 he broke into the NFL as a quarterbacks coach with the Saints. Since then he has coached in Kansas City, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay. During his time with the Packers he worked with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Clements is credited with helping the development of Rodgers in the pro game and picked up a championship ring from Super Bowl XLV.

If you Liked this

If you enjoyed a bit of CFL history and don’t just want to focus on the O, then we did run a series of articles making ‘the case for the D’ and focusing on special teamers too.

The case for the D focused on CFL defensive greats like Herb Gray, Willie PlessAngelo MoscaDickie HarrisNorm FieldgateWayne HarrisBill Baker, & Jim Corrigall.

The focus on special teams included the likes of Pinball ClemonsHenry ‘Gizmo’ WilliamsLui PassagliaBob Cameron, & Dave Cutler. Go take a look if you are interested!

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