Bruno Bitkowski played for 11 years in the Canadian Football League with the Ottawa Rough Riders during the 1950s and early ’60s. He won two Grey Cups and left behind a legacy as one of the preeminent offensive centres of his era. In Windsor, Bitkowski is remembered as one of our city’s most popular high school athletes of all time.
Bitkowski, born in Windsor on November 29, 1929, amassed an impressive reputation while studying and playing sports at Assumption High School and Assumption College. Throughout high school and university, Bitkowski was known across the community as a likeable football and basketball star.
In 1947, Bitkowski was a Second Team All-City selection in WSSA football. The following year, he repeated the feat while also getting himself on to the Second Team All-City WSSA basketball squad. That same year, Toronto’s High News publication named Bitkowski as a tackle on its editorial board’s All-Ontario team for football.
At Assumption College, Bitkowski played on the Junior Ontario Rugby Football Union champion football team in 1950. He was also a member of the school’s basketball team.
After his academic career, Bitkowski moved to Ottawa to play professional football with the CFL’s Rough Riders. In his inaugural season, 1951, Bitkowski won the Gruen Trophy as the best rookie in the Big Four for his strong play as an offensive centre. The Rough Riders won the Grey Cup that year, defeating Saskatchewan 21-14 in the Grey Cup game.
Although Bitkowski had to wait until 1960 to win his second Grey Cup, when his Ottawa team defeated Edmonton 16-6, his play was consistently impressive throughout the ’50s. In 1955, Bitkowski was named Ottawa’s Most Valuable Player, and he made the Big Four All-Star Team in 1956. Following his retirement, Bitkowski’s number 40 was one of only 10 numbers ever retired by the Ottawa Rough Riders organization. Dave Thelen, a Canadian Football Hall of Fame running back who played with Bitkowski, is known to have claimed that he never ran behind a better blocking centre.
Eddie MacCabe, a Hall of Fame journalist who wrote for the Ottawa Journal, chose to emphasize Bitkowski’s character. “Bruno Bitkowski was as good a man as we’ve ever known in sports,” he wrote.
For many years, the trophy for WSSA’s “most gentlemanly player” was named after Bitkowski and awarded in his honour.
Bruno Bitkowski passed away on February 10, 1966. He was only 37.