When Norbert (everybody calls him "Nobby") Wirkowski was in college, he was destined to become involved in playing and coaching football for a great part of his life. Just look at who some of his teammates were: at right tackle, venerable Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler; at left tackle, long-time Miami Dolphins assistant coach Bill Arnsberger; and at right halfback, the legendary coach and TV commentator Ara Parseighan.
The above all had distinguished careers, and it was Wirkowski who told THEM what to do on the football field, since HE was the quarterback and field general. He must have been a very good teacher, and he later went on to prove it by coaching high school football at Toronto's De La Salle from 1952-57, the Argos as an assistant from 1960-61 and head man from 1962-64, and finally, at York University, where he was first coach and then athletic director in a career that spanned from 1966-1992.
However, before Wirkowski became established as a long-time coach, he first made his mark as a player, and for 31 years was the answer to a famous trivia question: "Who was the last Argo to quarterback the team to a Grey Cup victory?" Until the Double Blue hoisted the trophy in 1983, Nobby's crew was the last to taste champagne from Earl Grey's mug, after defeating the Edmonton Eskimos 21-11 at Varsity Stadium in 1952.
"It was inevitable, I knew it had to happen sometime," said Wirkowski of the Grey Cup winless streak. While it happened more than four decades ago, Wirkowski remembers the 1952 win very vividly, including the winning touchdown pass.
"It was a crossing pattern between Al Bruno and Zeke O'Connor," said Wirkowski. "The prime receiver was Bruno, and we caught (Edmonton) in a bad defence. At the last minute, they had Bruno double-teamed and I saw Zeke wide open. No sooner had I thrown it, I got whacked."
While Wirkowski was on the ground in some pain, O'Connor was celebrating in the end zone. It was the culmination of a great year for this pair, who had earlier that game called an audible that earned them the wrath of their coach, Frank Clair. "We were on our own 10-yard line and had a second-and-nine, and I called an out to Zeke and we got a first down," said Wirkowski. "I got back to the bench expecting to hear 'nice play' from the coach, and all I remember was him giving me hell because he had wanted a running play."
There's no telling if "Nobby" the coach was as tough on his players as the "Professor" was on him, but there is no doubt that few have contributed more to education and the game of football in the Toronto area than Wirkowski.
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