'Mad Dog' O'Billovich as tough as they came; late OSU linebacker to enter Oregon Sports Hall of Fame
- Kerry Eggers
- Portland Tribune - Sports
Among the great nicknames in state-of-Oregon athletic history, Jack O'Billovich's is near the top.
'They don't come much tougher than Jack,' says Rockne Freitas, a teammate at Oregon State. 'He'd run straight on into a pickup truck if he had to.'
O'Billovich - who died of a heart condition in 1995 at age 53 - ran straight on into opposing ballcarriers during his three years at OSU, where he earned All-America honors and helped the Beavers make their last Rose Bowl appearance in 1965.
The 5-11, 225-pound middle linebacker grew up in a lower-middle class family in Butte, Mont., which partially explains his grit.
'We grew up in a tough environment,' says Bob O'Billovich, Jack's older brother by two years, 'but there were some positives that came out of it. We learned how to compete, learned what it takes to be successful through attitude and work ethic. We were both fortunate to get athletic scholarships to college and be able to make a life for ourselves.'
Jack didn't go directly to college from high school. For a while, he worked in the local coal mines.
'He got a dose of reality one day,' says Bob, now general manager of the Canadian Football League Hamilton Tiger-Cats. 'Somebody kicked a rock loose out of a shaft, and it killed a miner. Jack saw it happen. It made him realize there might be a better way to go.'
Jack wound up at Wenatchee (Wash.) Valley College, and a year later he received several D-I scholarship offers.
'Oregon State was the one he liked the best,' Bob O'Billovich says.
Jack O'Billovich was a three-year starter at OSU, the first two years under Tommy Prothro, the last year under Dee Andros.
'Jack was a fun-loving guy, a great player and an extremely hard worker,' says Freitas, an offensive lineman who played 12 years in the NFL. 'Folks from Montana are down-to-earth people with both feet on the ground - who don't mind getting their hands dirty. Jack was just like that.
'And he was loyal. If he was your friend, he was your friend to the death.'
O'Billovich was one of his sport's first weight-room advocates.
'He worked like crazy to build himself up,' his brother says. 'He was 175 pounds coming out of high school. By the time he left Oregon State, he was all muscle.'
Jack loved creating havoc on the gridiron. Hence the 'Mad Dog' sobriquet.
'It suited him,' his brother says. 'That's how he played. He was really aggressive on the field.'
An 11th-round draft pick by Detroit in 1966, Jack had a cup of coffee with both the NFL Lions and the CFL Tiger-Cats. Knee and back injuries curtailed his playing career.
During his latter years, O'Billovich worked in commercial real estate in the Portland area and served as a scout for his brother in the CFL. Jack's son, Tony, was a fine linebacker at Oregon State from 1990-93 and played two years in the CFL.
Jack never coached Tony, 'but after every game, I went to him first,' says Tony, a Tigard resident who runs six Tire Factory stores. 'I think his football mentality rubbed off on me. I was nowhere near the player he was, but his advice helped me develop my abilities.'
While he was at Oregon State, Tony sat with his father and watched film of the Beavers' 34-7 Rose Bowl loss to Michigan at the end of the 1964 season.
'Dad had 15 tackles,' Tony says. 'He was all over the place. It's the only game film I ever saw of his playing days. It was cool getting to watch it with him.'
A couple of years ago, Bob O'Billovich was at a Cincinnati Bengals practice. So was John Cooper, the long-time Ohio State and Arizona State head coach who began his career as an assistant under Prothro at Oregon State.
'Cooper doesn't know me, but he's talking to another scout about a couple of prospects who are from Montana, and he says, 'The toughest guy I ever coached was a guy from Montana named Jack O'Billovich,' " Bob says.
To his death, Jack was a proud Beaver.
'He bled orange and black,' says Bob, who will fly to Portland to be on hand for his late brother's induction. 'He was very loyal to that school and that program. Jack carried the Oregon State colors with a lot of pride.'