Obie article from today's Toronto Star

From today's TO Star. The paper has a pic of the Obie clan too as well as a separate article on Arland Bruce III.

An Argo-Cat fan

Sep 05, 2009 04:30 AM
Chris Zelkovich
Sports Reporter

HAMILTON–The trademark voice that launched a thousand impressions is explaining why the Argonauts will always remain dear to Bob O'Billovich.

"No one can take away the fond memories I have of that association in Toronto," says O'Billovich. "Taking over a team that was 2-14 and winning the Grey Cup two years later was something special."

But there's something wrong with this picture. The man better known as Obie is sitting in a room festooned with photos and plaques celebrating the glory days of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, sworn enemies of the Argos.

In fact, it's in the Ticats' head office.

It's a setting that has rankled Argo fans since the cold December day in 2007 when O'Billovich left his job as a scout for the B.C. Lions and headed down the QEW to become general manager of the Ticats.

The thought of him resurrecting a Hamilton team still riles Argo fans. After all, isn't he the winningest coach in team history, the guy who became a civic hero after ending that incredible 31-year Grey Cup drought in 1983? How could he don black and gold just months after being named the Argos' all-time coach?

O'Billovich said after working for five other CFL teams, moving to Hamilton was a big leap. But he still hears it from Argo fans and even some friends.

The funny thing is that had O'Billovich listened to his friends, he'd probably still be scouting out of his Oakville home.

Or maybe he'd be lying in a hammock, resting his recently replaced 69-year-old hip, or working on his golf game.

But O'Billovich isn't the kind of guy who listens to people who tell him what he shouldn't do. That's why he is a happy man these days.

While that happiness is tempered by the fact the 4-4 Ticats have blown leads in losing their last two games, O'Billovich takes some satisfaction in knowing that he has helped revive a franchise that had become the joke of the CFL in going 15-57 over the last four seasons.

Already the Tabbies have more victories than they compiled all last season (three) and are looking like a contender. Not a Grey Cup contender, but at least a team capable of making the playoffs.

Maybe like those '82 Argos, who mapped the route for the following year's Grey Cup parade.

The Ticats suddenly are – dare we say it? – respectable again.

"Our players are much better and our coaching is much better and Obie is responsible for both of those," said Ticats president Scott Mitchell.

O'Billovich said there were two factors that made him decide to leave a job with B.C. that allowed him to work out of his house and resume the high-pressure life of a football executive. One was his competitive nature.

"The challenge was too good to turn down," he said. "I was probably thinking the same thing Ralph Sazio was thinking when he came to Toronto. We thought we could make a difference and it was in the best interest of the league to try to help these franchises get back on track.

"When you've been a competitor as long as I've been, as an athlete, coach and administrator, competition is what really drives you."

The other factor was the knowledge he had the energy to take on such a formidable task. For that he can thank grandson Quinn, now 4.

O'Billovich and wife Judy had been helping son Coy to look after Quinn after his mother and their daughter-in-law, Cam, died unexpectedly of a stroke nine months after his birth. She was only 32.

"I knew if I had the energy to do that, I could run a football team again," O'Billovich said with a smile.

"It was a very tough time to go through when Cam passed away, but the little guy has brought a lot of joy into our lives."

O'Billovich said his strong faith in God helped him and his family through that crisis, just as it as helped him become a better person.

"I was listening to some gospel music in the car this morning and it talked about how we should try to make the world a better place if we can," O'Billovich said. "I really believe that."

He said he believes he's made the CFL a better place.

"I like to feel that I've made a positive contribution wherever I've been and that I've always been a good ambassador for the Canadian Football League," he said. "The CFL has been very good to me and I want to be good to the CFL."

While the sentimental side of O'Billovich is known to his family and friends, there's little room for emotion on the football side of his personality.

Just ask Argo linebacker Zeke Moreno, a star in Hamilton who was one of the first players shipped out after O'Billovich started remaking the Ticats last season.

"He's strictly business," said Moreno. "There's no bad blood between us, but he's not a very sociable man."

Mitchell said what attracted him to O'Billovich, outside of a pretty impressive track record, was that no-nonsense approach.

"He doesn't have a filter," Mitchell said. "He said what he thinks and he calls it the way he sees it.

"Our favourite Obie term in the office is, `Better is better.' It exemplifies him because it sounds simple, but it's very accurate. He doesn't care about personalities, he'll do whatever it takes to get better."

There's little doubt the Ticats have become much better under O'Billovich. But he said he won't be satisfied until he has collected his fifth Grey Cup ring.

"There's three for the kids and one for Quinn," he said. "Now I've got a son-in-law and he wants one, too."

As for the future, there's no guarantee he'll pack it in when his contract expires at the end of next season.

"When that time comes we'll figure it out," he said. "If this is something I still want to do, I will. Or maybe it'll be time to start golfing more."