Ottawa Rough Riders

Bob O'Billovich - Quarterback/Defensive Back - 1963-67 - Montana State


Excerpt - Obie's soft spot for Steeltown - Globe&Mail - Nov 15, 2009

Obie tells a story.


The setting is what was then still called Civic Stadium, the time the early 1960s, not long after Bob O’Billovich arrived in Canada from Montana, a great all-round athlete – playing football and basketball, he was chosen the University of Montana’s finest of the decade – who signed with the Ottawa Rough Riders to play quarterback and defensive back.


Hamilton wasn’t the most hospitable place for a visiting player, though O’Billovich says he always had a soft spot for the city, its steel heritage similar enough to the western mining town in which he’d grown up.


At the Ottawa bench, coach Frank Clair was giving last-minute instructions to his kickoff team before they took the field. But “the Professor,” usually a quiet, scholarly sort as per his nickname, was having a hard time being heard above the din. The Hamilton cheerleader, Pigskin Pete – probably the original, Vince Wirtz – was standing directly behind the Ottawa bench, inspiring repeated chants of “oskee wee wee” from the Steeltown faithful.


O’Billovich would find out years later that Angelo Mosca, the fearsome Hamilton lineman, who during a previous brief stint with Ottawa had not exactly hit it off with Clair (“It wasn’t a love-hate relationship,” O’Billovich laughs. “It was a hate-hate relationship.”) had put old Pigskin up to it, telling him to get as close to the Riders as possible.


Finally, Clair couldn’t take it any more, and exploded.

Bob O'Billovich   Montana
Yr Int Yds Avg TD Lg
1963 2 25 12.5 0 22
1964 6 191 31.8 2 74
1965 6 114 19 0 40
1966 3 42 14 0 26
1967 7 38 5.43 0 12
Total 24 410 17.1 2 74


“And let’s shove that oskee wee wee…” Well, you know what he was suggesting.


To pick up the markers there, the people who are long gone, the teams that no longer exist, one has to be of a certain age. And of those still around who were involved in the game then, most long ago settled into the role of retired elder statesman.


O'Billovich played 5 seasons with Ottawa primarily as a defensive back. He did take a few snaps at quarterbacks accumulating 82 yards passing over his career with 1 touchdown passing and 1 interception.


Bob was an All-Star in 1965 leading the East division with 6 interceptions he also had 6 in 1964 and in his final season in the league he totalled 7. Obie stayed around after retiring as a player coaching Ottawa university basketball. He found his way back to the Rough Riders as an assistant coach in the late 1970's before landing his first head coaching job with Toronto in 1982. Ralph Sazio recruited Obie to be the Argos coach to bring an end to over 30 years without a championship. Bob would deliver in his second season with Toronto as they captured the Grey Cup in 1983. He stayed with Toronto as head coach until 1989. Stints in BC and a return to Toronto were followed by a move into management.


Bob is the all-time leader for coaching victories with Toronto and currently spends his time as General Manager of the Hamilton Tiger Cats.