TORONTO — The mystery, anticipation and then celebration never get old for Mike (Pinball) Clemons.
The Toronto Argonauts received their 2022 Grey Cup rings Thursday night during a private dinner. For Clemons, the club's affable GM, it's the seventh championship ring he's earned as a player, head coach and executive with the storied franchise since coming aboard in 1990.
"I'd suggest winning the Grey Cup is one of the most refreshing experiences that I've had in life," Clemons said. "It's a very nice way to put a bow on 2022 and maybe the pandemic itself and the challenges it presented."
The CFL didn't stage a season in 2020 due to the global pandemic. It resumed play in 2021 with a reduced 14-game campaign before staging a full 18-game schedule last year without protocols.
Clemons was involved in the ring design but didn't see the finished product until Thursday. He said it was definitely worth the wait.
"I did get a chance to see the process," he said. "But the end result was, 'Wow.'"
The ring features 308 diamonds in 10 carat white gold with a custom blue sapphire top stone in Toronto's boat logo.
Baron Championship Rings, of Tecumseh, Ont., was the manufacturer. The company specializes in championship rings, having created them for the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, NBA's Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto FC of MLS, the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks and Hockey Canada, to name but a few.
"We're pretty excited about it and really happy with the outcome," said Baron CEO Peter Kanis. "Everyone put their heads into this, which I think is going to be one of the best-looking Grey Cup rings ever."
The ring was the result of a collaboration between Baron as well as Toronto players and officials. That included Clemons but he said it was the players group, headed up by veteran linebacker Henoc Muamba — the MVP and top Canadian in the club's 24-23 Grey Cup win over Winnipeg — that took the lead.
"As well it should," said Clemons. "When I was coaching, I used to tell them, 'Players win championships, not coaches. Coaches can help you get there but the players have to win the game.'
"Yes, as a coach you live it also but it's a little bit different experience. The coach doesn't always know the tone of the team . . . so just as the team has to win it, it's important for that to be illustrated in the recognition, be it the ring or otherwise."
The rings were presented in a custom wood box that has both the team logo and each name engraved on it. And when opened, an LED light comes on, illuminating the ring inside.
The ring included several unique elements that tell the story of Toronto's championship season.
The encrusted water-themed contoured top features a stone-filled sail and the blue sapphire stone logo sailing on an additional wave of 18 stones representing each of the franchise's CFL-record Grey Cup titles. The left shoulder displays the Toronto skyline with six stars that signify the team's home wins in 2022.
"The logo itself was pretty intricate because you have waves and different lines," Kanis said. "When you make a piece, it's almost impossible to create exactly that logo because colours can't sit beside colours in jewelry, you must have metal separating the colours to make it sit in the piece.
"The challenge was, 'How do you make it look as close as possible but still give it that spark and brightness?' I think where we really shine was that custom-cut stone in the middle of the logo . . . that was the centrepiece which we made as close as possible. Everything else was studded with diamonds to make it look bright."
The right shoulder displays BMO Field and the 18 championship banners hanging with players' names and stone-filled numbers. Engraved inside is the team's motto, 'A three strand cord is not easily broken,' representing the squad's resilience and honour of playing together.
Under the motto is the 24-23 game score. The outside bottom shank holds the team's mindset of going 1-0 each week with the outside edges featuring different blue stone waves.
"A big ask from the players was having a water element," Kanis said. "Just because of flowing like water and how water can be soft but is actually very strong.
"So we did a nice wave pattern with three different colours of blue stones in it."
Kanis said the evolution of ring-making technology is evident in the three-strand cord.
"(It) goes completely inside the ring and that would've been impossible with the technology back then," he said. "But with 3D technology now, you can do that.
"The saying is recessed into the ring but the three-strand cord is wrapped completely inside it for the first time ever. They (Argos players) just wanted the saying but when we said we could do the actual cord they were on board."
Kanis said it usually takes between 12 and 16 weeks to make the rings, depending on the complication involved. The process includes ring design, the 3D modelling of it, drafting (taking an image and producing it) and then the actual casting.
Kanis said the rings roughly weigh 100 grams apiece, a healthy size but certainly not the biggest Baron has made. However, he added the Argos wanted much more than a gaudy piece of jewelry.
"It was more about getting the details in this ring," he said. "There have been bigger ones with more diamonds but I think from a detail perspective, specifically this logo and all that went into it, it's one of the most detailed Grey Cup rings that's ever been made.
"The uniqueness of this boat logo just makes it stand out."
Kanis said over 100 rings were made for players, coaches and football staff, with exact items varying over "four or five" different tiers to also cover additional employees.
“The journey to winning a championship is one that requires countless hours of hard work and sacrifice but the reward stays with you forever," Clemons said. "A championship ring is a constant reminder of a tremendous team accomplishment and this ring literally bonds you with your teammates forever."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press