Tom Wilkinson - Quarterback - 1967-81 - Wyoming
The True North Strong and Free - Grey Cup 2002 - Peter Robinson
Tom Wilkinson still recalls his first trip through Toronto with a mixture of nostalgia and amazement. Driving East from his sleepy hometown of Greybull, Wyoming (pop. 1,100), to his first professional training camp in Toronto, the future CFL star quarterback did what many rural visitors to Hogtown do when confronted by the confusing maze of concrete that doubles as the city's streets.
"I was looking for Queen St.," he continues. "I was booked in a hotel there... I finally found it too, but when I got there, there were five or six huge guys standing in the hotel lobby. I called (coach) Leo Cahill and asked him how he expected a small guy like me to compete in a league with all these big guys.
"Leo told me that the Detroit Pistons were in town for an exhibition game that night and that they were staying in the same hotel... I breathed a big sigh of relief."
As the history books show, Wilkinson's adjustment to the CFL - and
Canada - was pretty impressive. Five Grey Cup wins in eight appearances ( all in Edmonton) booked his ticket into the Hall of Fame in 1987. Now in his fourth decade living in Canada, the 59-year-old still retains hints of the Wyoming drawl, but he is perhaps Edmonton's best example of American football players coming to Canada and never leaving.
"Edmonton became home pretty quick," says Wilkinson of the move that brought him west, first to B.C. for a season and then to Edmonton where he never missed a game in 10 seasons.
"This is just a great community, a great place to live and work."
Wilkinson lives in Sherwood Park, has three grown children and four grandchildren, all of them born in
Canada except his oldest, daughter Sherry.
The CFL Most Outstanding Player in 1974, who recently wrapped up a 10-year coaching career at the University of Alberta, now works for Carpet World in Edmonton. Wilkinson says he misses working with young football players, but enjoys public relations work he's now doing for his new company. He started years back when he introduced his famous "Wyoming fried onion" hot dogs at the company's barbecue it held every holiday weekend in the summer.
"Don't ask me for the recipe, because I'm not telling you," Wilkinson warns.
Wilkinson estimates that at least 40 Eskimo alumni from the U.S. now make Edmonton are home, dating all the way back to the Grey Cup champion teams of 1954-56.
Excerpt Craig Wallace-Toronto Argonauts website
Edmonton appeared in the Grey Cup every year from 1977-1982 winning the last 5 consecutive games. Tom had a key role being the starting quarterback until midway through the 1980 season when he pulled a hamstring. At that point young Warren Moon took over that role. Warren was an incredibly gifted athlete Tom recalls;
"Warren could throw the ball 800 yards farther then I could! He could run well and was a great student of the game. I didn't really teach him anything. Warren would watch me when I was playing and see what I would do in certain situations."
Tom's final season was 1981. He spent the year backing up Warren and saw most of his action holding for placekicking attempts by Dave Cutler. He had one bit of magic left in him however. Edmonton who had finished the 1981 season with a record of 14-1-1 took on 5-11 Ottawa in the Grey Cup. Experts were predicting this Grey Cup would be the most lopsided ever. Edmonton they predicted, could win easily by 30 points or more. It didn't happen. Ottawa coached by the wily George Brancato took a 20-0 lead by the 2nd quarter.
They were moving the ball with ease and had Warren Moon looking totally rattled and off his game. The greatest upset in professional football history was looming when Edmonton coach Hugh Campbell pulled Moon from the game and sent in Tom. "Wilkie" knew he had to settle the offence down and give them some confidence that they could move the ball against the fired up Rough Rider defense.
"Ottawa's game plan was designed around stopping Warren. He and I were totally different quarterbacks so when I went in I threw them off their game. Warren liked to throw deep and they were laying back waiting for the long passes. I went in and started to throw short passes, underneath the coverage.
Warren went back into the game in the 2nd half, which he should of, as he was the number one guy. He had a chance to watch me on the sidelines and see what I was doing and settle down. They still laid back waiting for the bombs and Warren continued what I did...just hit on short passes. He moved us down for a touchdown and then we got a turnover deep in their zone and picked up another. He played great in the second half and we won the game.
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