Great CFL Pivots: Tom Wilkinson

Great CFL Pivots: Tom Wilkinson
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Tom Wilkinson – 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. Volume can be padded by longer seasons and styles of play too. So I thought it might be fun to look back at some great CFL quarterbacks and celebrate their careers.

We started with Ron Lancaster, and now it is time to move on to another great. This time we are looking at a man who played in the Continental Football League, and for three CFL teams. That is Tom Wilkinson, who really made his name with Edmonton.

Tom Wilkinson and Hugh Campbell talk things over during the 1978 Grey Cup. Image from

Before Edmonton

Tom Wilkinson made his way out of Greybull Wyoming, (population 1,847 in the 2010 census), and on to the campus of the Wyoming Cowboys.

He played 30 games for Wyoming on teams that went a combined 18-10-2. During that time he threw for 3,236 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Wilkinson never made a bowl game with Wyoming . They would go 20-2 the following two seasons and appear in back to back Sun Bowl games. However, he more than made up for that with Grey Cup titles as a pro.

Before the CFL however came the Continental Football League where Wilkinson played in 1966 for the Toronto Rifles.

Wilkinson passed for 18 touchdowns and earned league Rookie-of-the-Year honours. The Rifles finished 9-5 and lost an East division playoffs to Philadelphia Bulldogs.

In 1967, Wilkinson joined the Toronto Argonauts where he would play four seasons (1967-70). He saw limited action in his first two years, but broke out in 1969 with 2331 yards and a 56.4% completion percentage in 9 games. 

After being traded to the BC Lions in 1971 Wilkinson played just one game for them, and was released prior to the start of the 1972 season.

After a journeyman 5 years in the league that might have been that. Instead Wilkinson and Edmonton would go on to enjoy exceptional success.

Tom Wilkinson – Leading the Green and Gold

Success and Wilkinson went hand in hand in Edmonton as he would appear in 8 Grey Cup games with them between 1973 and his retirement in 1981. He would be on the winning side no less than five times too.

Wilkinson was part of a 1-2 combination of rotating QB’s for most of his time in green and gold. First with Bruce Lemmerman, and latterly with Warren Moon.

Replacing an injured Bruce Lemmerman in the third game of the 1972 season, Wilkinson led the Eskimos to the first of a North American professional sports record 34 consecutive seasons resulting in a playoff appearance.

Between 1973 and 1981 Wilkinson would help lead the team to eight Grey Cup appearances within nine years, missing only the 1976 season.

After losing to Ottawa in 1973 and Montreal in 1974, Wilkinson and Edmonton won the Grey Cup in 1975 against the Alouettes. Edmonton and Tom would lose again to the Als in the 1977 Grey Cup before going on a winning streak.

Edmonton went on to win an unprecedented five consecutive Grey Cups from 1978 to 1982. Wilkinson was on the team for winning four of them, and retired after the 1981 season.

Wilkinson won three West and three CFL All-Star awards in 1974, 1978 and 1979. He was also named the Outstanding Player in the CFL in 1974 and was the runner-up in 1978. 

Being part of 1-2 system, plus some injuries, don’t make Tom’s numbers look that spectacular by modern standards. During 15 seasons in the CFL, he completed 1,613 passes for 22,579 yards, 154 touchdowns, and had a completion percentage of 61 per cent.

But, that being said, making 8 Grey Cup games and being a winner in 5 of them would stand out in any era.

After the Gridiron

The on field leader became a Head Coach for the University of Alberta Golden Bears. From 1991-2000 he posted a 30-48-2 record.

Tom Wilkinson was the first player to be honoured on the Edmonton “Wall of Fame” at Commonwealth Stadium in 1982.

His image was used in 2012 as part of a series of series of Grey Cup centenary commemorative postage stamps. He is also a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

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 article 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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