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A 1960 photo of Toronto Argonauts quarterback Nobby Wirkowski

Michael Burns

Nobby Wirkowski, who experienced highs and lows with the Toronto Argonauts during the 1950s, has died at the age of 88.

The death of the longtime Mississauga, Ont., resident was confirmed Thursday by the CFL team.

Wirkowski, a Chicago native, spent most of five seasons with the Argos as a player and quarterbacked the team to the 1952 Grey Cup championship. He later became head coach.

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Wirkowski, with a receiving corps that included Royal Copeland, Bill Bass, Rod Smylie and Zeke O'Connor, led the Argos past Hamilton, Sarnia and finally Edmonton to win their 10th Grey Cup championship.

He ran for a touchdown and threw for another in a 21-11 win over the Eskimos before 27,391 at Toronto's Varsity Stadium. The Argonauts did not win another Grey Cup until 1983.

Toronto's lack of success in the two seasons after its Grey Cup win led to a fan backlash with Wirkowski bearing the brunt. Viewed as a poor runner, he fared badly at times behind a weak offensive line.

In 1953, the Double Blue finished last in the East and scored only 172 points all season, their lowest output since 1948. In '54, the team was out of the playoffs again in third place although Wirkowski set a career passing mark with 62 TD passes.

Toronto manager Harry Sonshine said Wirkowski would not quarterback his team again and recruited Tom Dublinski from the Detroit Lions for a reported two year no-cut contract worth $17,000 annually. The Lions later sued Toronto for enticing away three of their players.

Coach Frank Clair had not wanted to part with Wirkowski and left to coach the University of Cincinnati.

Wirkowski was dealt to Hamilton with two other players for defensive halfback Dick Brown in a blockbuster trade in June 1955.

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A Canadian Press story at the time referred to Wirkowski as "more often a bum than a hero to Toronto fans although one of the best passers in Canadian football."

He also played for Calgary before returning to Toronto in 1959 when he suffered a career-ending knee injury during an exhibition game.

He became an assistant coach that year and was elevated to head coach when Lou Agase was fired after an 0-3 start to the 1962 season. He held the position until 1964.

A letterman in football, basketball and baseball during his high school days, Wirkowski went on to star at the University of Miami (Ohio) under legendary coach Woody Hayes, who became an icon at Ohio State.

Wirkowski led the RedHawks over Texas Tech in the 1948 Sun Bowl, and then defeated Arizona State in the 1951 Salad Bowl, later known as the Fiesta Bowl.

In a 2007 interview with the Mississauga News, Wirkowski recalled that some of his college teammates back in 1948 wondered if he could throw the ball 70 yards.

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"I told them 'Sure,"' Wirkowski said. "They bet me a milkshake I couldn't. Now I wasn't allowed to throw the ball on the run or anything like that. I had to have my feet planted. I threw the ball 84 yards."

He coached at Toronto's De La Salle High School from 1952 to 1957.

Wirkowski had strong ties to York University. He helped found the York football team, served as its first head coach and was also the school's athletic director while serving as a professor in the faculty of physical education.

He was York's head coach from 1968 to 1975 and 1988 to 1989, returning briefly as an associate coach in 1984 and 1987. Wirkowski retired from York in 1992.

He is a member of the Miami University Athletics Hall of Fame, York University Sports Hall of Fame and Mississauga Hall of Fame.

Drafted by the Chicago Cubs as a youth, he served overseas as an engineer with the U.S. Army during the Second World War.

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