As the crowd of 23,061 settle themselves into their Rogers Centre seats to watch the Toronto Argonauts battle their East Division rivals, the Hamilton Tiger Cats, they are witnesses to the celebration of U of T Varsity Blues teams of history. The ceremony serves as build up to the 100th Grey Cup game to be held here; it will take place in November. A banner to commemorate the ceremony is presented to U of T representatives; among the recipients on is Nick Volpe, a U of T alumnus from the class of 1948—and an Argos legend.
With a glowing smile, it’s clear that his love for his alma mater is as deep as it’s been since he graduated 64 years ago. “On July the seventh I was inducted to the university’s sports hall of fame. That came as a bit of a surprise after all these years, but I’ve been involved with Toronto in many capacities. As you already know, I send a lot of players there and I go there to watch most of the games. I’m always looking for someone to move up to this team, because that’s always a thrill—when I can get someone from U of T to play with the Argos.”
Volpe won the Yates cup with the Blues in 1948. Two years later, he earned himself another championship with his performance in the 38th Grey Cup, one of the most infamous CFL games in history, and the last time a team has shut out another: the infamous “mud bowl”.
“I love football; I’ve been involved in it since I was 13 years old. I was in the class in ’48, and we won the Yates cup that year, and I went to Argos in ’49 and I won the grey cup in 50 in the mud bowl. I kicked two field goals in the game, and I caught a guy who broke away at the 15-yard line, and they didn’t score, and we won the game 13–0. Frank Clair, the head coach, said, ‘Nick, you deserve the game ball,’ so I have the game ball at home, all signed by the team. They only used that one ball practically the whole game,” said Volpe.
I’m always looking for someone to move up to this team, because that’s always a thrill—when I can get someone from U of T to play with the Argos.
Volpe made the most of his years as a U of T student, learning the significance of good work ethic carrying over into his professional life, where he’s been more than just a football player. “U of T to me was wonderful, as it got me into education—and I was in education for 39 years. I started as a teacher, and then a head of department, a coordinator of phys ed, a principal of summer school, then a superintendent of schools.”
His mission in life has been to make a significant impact on his community. His time in university awarded him that chance. “I always taught while I played. I used to teach school until 3:20, and then coach my football team until 5:15, and then jump in my car, drive to varsity stadium, practice with the Argos for two hours, have supper, come home, prepare for lessons the next day—and back all over again.”
This is an exciting year for a legend who was deeply involved in keeping his school’s football program alive during its darkest days. “I rooted for Toronto while they had a tough time in the last few years. 1993 was their last [championship] win, and I was one of the alumni in 1990, or about that time, who got on the phone who started calling. And we got donations and we earned about 300 grand. And that kept the team going.”
As a consultant for the Argonauts, Volpe can sometimes be seen at UTM, taking in the team’s practice. He shares fond feelings about the campus. “I didn’t go to school there, but it looks like an amazing, growing community. It’s wonderful how it’s growing; I lived in Mississauga for 50 years or so.”
Meanwhile, his excitement for his university football is obvious: “I’d love to see the University of Toronto in the playoff—and, you know, this might be the year!”