Class of 2017
Considering the accomplishments of Bob O’Billovich not only play across the vast confines of American and Canadian football fields but across their sidelines and front offices over a half Century.
Being inducted to the Montana Football Hall of Fame the Butte legend adds recognition to an illustrious amateur and professional career few can rival.
Inducted into the Canadian Football Hall in 2015, two years after he announced his retirement, “Obie” set standards not likely to be duplicated in a 50-year CFL career
The winningest coach in Toronto, Ont, history in an 11-year Argonaut career, he amassed 172 victories claiming a quintet of Eastern Division titles and three times leading the Argos to the Grey Cup capturing Toronto’s second ever championship in 1983.
But as well as a highly successful professional coaching career, additionally for Ottawa and British Columbia, and a four-year Ottawa playing stint during which he was named to the All-Star team in 1965, O’Billovich also served a variety of positions in the front offices of three additional programs.
“Obie” was named the fourth best football player in Butte history after a multi-sport interscholastic experience at Butte High School where during his final two years the Bulldogs won the 1957 and 1958 state basketball championship with “Obie” claiming All-State laurels.
Despite his diminutive size (he sprouted six inches to 5-7 as a senior eventually being listed as 5-10) he was a premier quarterback-defensive back, a standout pitcher-shortstop on the American Legion baseball team and a high-scoring roundballer.
As a sophomore quarterback, he threw for better than 1,100 yards leading the Grizzlies to the top of the challenging Skyline Conference in passing.
While being named second-team All-League as junior quarterback, he also led the nation in interceptions with seven eventually establishing the career standard with 13 picks.
He earned nine letters at Montana State University (now the University of Montana) and was the Athlete of the Decade in the 60’s while captaining all three varsity teams.
“Obie”was named All-Skyline Conference in three sports leading to his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1967, joining fellow Butte product and inaugural Montana Football Hall of Famer Bill Lazetich, then was inducted into theinaugural class of the Grizzly Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
Head Football Coach Ray Jenkins theorized the only reason “Obie” failed to receive All-American mention was the team’s poor record (13-24) during the time.
He also was the first winner of the Outstanding Senior Athlete Award awarded by the Missoula Chamber of Commerce and won the Grizzly Cup, emblematic as the best athlete on campus, in 1962.
But away from the gridiron, “Bullet Bob,” as he was also nicknamed, continued to excel winning the Carl Dragstedt MVP award in hoop as a junior in 1961 and the John Eaheart Award as the team’s best defensive player the following season.
Drafted in the 12th round by St. Louis but trying out for Denver of the AFL, he was released and then considered a baseball offer from the New York Yankees.
He opted instead for Canada beginning his legendary Ottawa career which began as a starter at defensive back.
A defensive all-star in ’65, he led the league in interceptions, the first of two seasons in which he was the pacesetter. His Ottawa team lost the Grey Cup to Saskatchewan in 1966 and “Obie” retired as a player the following year.
He also played for Indianapolis of the United Football League and also played cornerback on the UFL All-Star team.
When “Obie” claimed the Grey Cup in ’83 it ended a 31-year Ottawa drought. How much did it men for the Canadian city? When they lost to Edmonton in the chipper in his first season the year before some 20,000 people lined the streets for a parade.
O’Billovich became the British Columbia head coach during the 1990 season and stayed until 1992 before returning to Ottawa as the general manager and also serving as the head coach.
He continued to alternate through the two positions until 1995. In ’98 he started a two-year stint as the player-personnel director in Saskatchewan during while they won the title (’01).
In ’03 he took the same position in Vancouver, earning a championship ring.
But talk about a continued diverse career “Obie” also coached the University of Ottawa to the national championship game – the first time ever - mentored a Canadian university basketball team to the national semi-finals in 1976 and besides winning one Grey Cup coached in two other title games.
Written by Mick Holien for the Montana Football Hall of Fame