Pretty much everybody from Butte has experienced it.
You’re somewhere out of town or out of state, and somebody asks you where you are from. So, you tell them.
“Butte?” the stranger will inevitably reply. “Isn’t that where Evel Knievel is from?”
Without a doubt, Evel is the biggest name to ever come from Butte. At one point he was one of the most famous people in the world.
My kids all know of Evel because of Knievel Days every summer in Butte. An autographed poster of the legendary daredevil also hangs on a wall at our home.
It is a real autograph, too. It’s not one signed by Muzzy Faroni, like many Evel-signed posters floating around eBay.
Muzzy, as legend has it, used to sign Evel’s autograph for fans looking for the Last Gladiator at the Freeway Tavern.
Of course, Butte is also now known as being the home of Rob O’Neill, Colt Anderson and the Wilson brothers, among others, and we’ll take that.
Those are all pretty great representatives of our hometown, without a doubt.
But there is one name that isn’t mentioned nearly enough. That would be the great Bob O’Billovich.
Like Evel, “Bobby O,” as he is affectionately known, should be a household name for all generations of the Mining City. He would be if the Denver Broncos didn’t mess up and play him out of position at cornerback instead of safety.
He’d be a household name had the San Diego Chargers made the right move and hired O’Billovich when he was a finalist for the head coaching position in 1989. Instead, the Chargers hired Dan Henning, who went 16-32 in three less-than-memorable seasons.
Even so, O’Billovich’s career in professional football is a remarkable one.
The 1958 Butte High graduate intercepted 24 passes in 69 games with the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa Rough Riders from 1963 to 1967.
Then, he went on to coaching and found even more success. O’Billovich led the Toronto Argonauts to the Grey Cup (the CFL’s Super Bowl) three times. His team won the Cup in 1983. He was named the CFL Coach of the Year twice, in 1982 and 1987.
Overall, he has three Grey Cup rings as a coach and front-office man. Along with the one from Toronto, O’Billovich also has rings from Ottawa, Calgary and B.C. His ring from the B.C. Lions came in 2006 when O’Billovich was the director of player personnel. His quarterback that season was none other than University of Montana legend Dave Dickenson.
In 2008, at the age of 68, O’Billovich took on one last job in the CFL, as the general manager of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
In five seasons under O’Billovich, the Tiger-Cats went to the playoffs three times.
In 2014, O’Billovich, now retired and living in Canada, was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Museum alongside Dickinson.
Of course, O’Billovich would be a household name in the Mining City even if he went into a career in banking after college.
At the University of Montana, O’Billovich started in football, basketball and baseball for the Grizzlies. Yes, he started for three years in each sport.
Nobody will ever do that again.
O’Billovich started at quarterback and defensive back for the football team. He started at guard in basketball and shortstop in baseball. If you notice, he started at positions generally reserved for the best player on the team, and he was an All-Skyline Conference selection in all three sports.
Oh, and O’Billovich also lettered in track.
The Butte boy was named the Athlete of the Decade for 1960-1970. He was inducted into the Grizzly Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993.
Another claim to fame for O’Billovich was that he was a college roommate with Dan Sullivan. Besides holding a record for the most nicknames for a man who isn’t a professional boxer, Sullivan was himself a Grizzly Hall of Famer in basketball.
Sullivan, I’m told, could shoot like no other. My grandpa told me that they wouldn’t let him inbound the ball because he’d shoot from out of bounds. He’d also probably make the shot.
Bobby O and “Dusty” Dan broke the Purple-Maroon barrier. Dan, you see, was a star at Butte Central. They were rivals in high school back in the days when there was not much, if any, interaction between Bulldogs and Maroons.
“Sully and I competed against each other all those years, and we became friends playing Legion baseball,” O’Billovich told me back in 2008. “He and I decided we were going to room together. For people in Butte, that was unheard of. They thought this was the end of the world.”
The legend of Bobby O, however, was established long before he took his talents to Missoula. That legend was cemented as a Butte High Bulldog.
O’Billovich might be the best football player Butte High, or Butte, has ever produced. According to the bio of O’Billovich for his induction into the Montana Football Hall of Fame last month in Billings, Bobby O was named the fourth best football player in Butte history.
Even the top three would probably agree that the ranking is debatable.
He might have been the best basketball player Butte High ever produced. O’Billovich’s 811 career points — which came long before the 3-point line was dreamed up — are still the fifth most in Butte High’s history. He stands behind only John Dawson, Chris Rasmussen, Gary Kane and Bob Olson.
O’Billovich averaged 17 points per game while scoring 407 of those points in his senior season.
Bobby O might also be the best baseball player Butte ever produced. He surely could have played professional ball had he not taken the football route. It was probably his best sport.
In 1987, O’Billovich became a charter member of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame. I don’t know the vote count, but his selection was probably close to unanimous.
Finally, O’Billovich is one of the nicest guys Butte has ever turned out.
In 2008, his former roommate told me he was going to be in town for a class reunion. I called Bobby O, and we met in the lobby of his hotel so I could interview him for a feature story for the daily newspaper.
He hung around for about 2 hours that afternoon, showing off his B.C. Lions Grey Cup ring, telling stories and asking for updates on his hometown.
A couple weeks later, I got a nice, handwritten thank you card from the great Bob O’Billovich on Tiger-Cats stationary.
That card is one of the few mementos I took with me when I left the paper a few years later.
I don’t have that autograph on display like the Knievel poster, but it is something I definitely hold as very special.
The only way it could be any better would be if it was signed by Muzzy himself.
— Bill Foley, who can only wish that he had a Muzzy autograph, writes a column that appears Tuesday on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.