Pat O’Dea – The Kangaroo Kicker

Pat O'Dea, Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin
Pat O’Dea, Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin

In 1919, Charles J. Mitchell arrived in Westwood like so many before and after him seeking employment. The Red River Lumber Company had high turnover in its workforce and always had openings. Little did Red River know their new hire was a famous football player. Then again, Mitchell used an alias. After all this was in an era, where few people carried any type of identification, and Social Security numbers were non-existent.

Westwood provided Mitchell with an ideal setting to live in obscurity. While he was active in certain community affairs such as the bandleader for the Westwood Firemen’s Band and the Westwood Auto Club. He and his wife, Emma, kept their private life private.

To say Mitchell dropped out was an understatement. His timing was impeccable by all the chaos of World War I had created that disrupted so many lives. It provided the perfect cover for his disappearing act. His success surpassed by even his greatest dreams. His first wife, by whom they had a child, filed for divorce on the grounds of desertion, she later claimed she was widowed. His older brother presumed he was dead and that he was killed while serving in the War. Mitchell had severed every contact with family and friends.

Mitchell’s tranquility would eventually come to an end. In the fall of 1934 Mitchell learned that his alma mater the University of Wisconsin planned to erect a statute of him as a memorial for his football feats. This was somewhat troublesome for Mitchell, since he was not dead. The story behind the scene as to what prompted him to reveal his true identity has been speculated by many over the years. There are some firm believers that it was Willis Walker who was going to divulge the identity of Red River’s famed employee. It should be noted that Willis attended the University of Wisconsin at the same time as Mitchell. One problem with the this theory, is that he did not spend that much time in Westwood. When Willis was in Westwood most of time it was just a quick business trip, so he was hardly one to mingle among the myriad of employees.

Whatever the case maybe, when the news broke of his true identity, it made national headlines. On September 21, 1934 the Lassen Mail reported: “Former Grid Immortal Is Found To Be In Westwood. Charles Mitchell Revealed As Famous Pat O’Dea Player of All Time; Has Been Living in Seclusion as Official.

Westwood residents who have been acquainted with Charley Mitchell, well known Red River Co. statistician, are going to have to learn to call him up by another name.

 “And that name is one of the most famous in the history of American football . . . PAT O’DEA.

“Buried behind the name of Mitchell for fifteen years O’Dea, who is secretary of the Westwood Auto Club and is well known in Lassen County, has hidden his identity for all this time in an endeavor to escape the glaring spotlight of publicity and acclaim which followed him wherever he went.

“Discovered. But this will be the case no longer. For Willis Walker, well known member of the lumber family had discovered that this statistician is the famous O’Dea of Wisconsin, the man who did the impossible time after time in football and who thrilled the fans of the nation back in the ‘90s.

“San Francisco sports writers “went wild” on learning of O’Dea’s whereabouts. Fifteen years ago he disappeared completely from the world that knew him. Frantic efforts were made to locate him. The Literary Digest suggested he had died in the war. Sports writers throughout the nation mourned his passing from their field of vision. 

“Devoting a full page to his past records and unbelievable feats, the San Francisco Chronicle of September 20 gives a good resume of O’Dea’s superhuman tactics while playing for Wisconsin in the nineties.

“On one occasion, O’Dea drop kicked at full speed, dodging a tackler to make the kick good between the goal posts. On another occasion he punted one hundred and ten yards (a world’s record) to send the ball clear out of the playing field. He performed the “most” impossible kick in football (quoting sports writers) against Illinois. Fifty-five yards from the goal posts, O’Dea decided to try a place kick for a goal against twenty mile cross field wind. To make the goal he had to kick fifty-five yards against the wind and PUT A CURVE ON THE BALL. The referee told him frankly that he was crazy . . . but he did it.

“O’Dea could curve a punt or drop kick like a baseball pitcher curve a baseball. He would tell his ends which way the punt would curve after it had traveled in the air for about thirty yards and he was regarded as a “cinch” to make a goal from midfield any time he tried. On one occasion, when cornered by an opposing player, O’Dea twisted and dodged from side to side, sidestepped the tackler and after backing up drop kicked fifty-five yards over his head for a goal.

 “Real Name Again. Therefore the surprise of the residents of Westwood to learn that the quiet, popular fellow who compiles figures about lumber is the greatest idol and player of all time can easily be imagined.

 “And they’re going to have to learn to call him by his right name, too, because from now on there isn’t any Charles Mitchell.

“The Great O’Dea has returned to the public that has wondered about him for fifteen years.”

So who exactly was this Patrick John O’Dea? He was born in 1872 in Kilmore, Australia and played briefly for the Melbourne Football club. In 1896, he made a surprise visit to his brother Andrew O’Dea, a rowing coach at the University of Wisconsin. He was about to become one of college football early legends. Purportedly, while at the University he watched a football practice and punted a stray football back to the team. It must have been an extraordinary kick as he was asked to join the team. He played briefly that season, but he a broke his arm during practice and was sidelined for the remainder.

His feats, as highlighted in the newspaper article, earned him the title of the “Kangaroo Kicker.” O’Dea while at the University of Wisconsin obtained a law degree. After leaving Madison, he coached at Notre Dame and the University of Missouri. By 1906 he had moved to San Francisco to practice law. Sometime around 1917, he disappeared, and two years later re-surfaced at Westwood as Charles Mitchell.

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