Strange But True: The Disappearing “Kangaroo”

In 1896 a young Australian named Patrick John O’Dea came to the United States and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. As a teenager back home, he had been a good swimmer and sprinter, but he had never seen a football game. Yet he tried out for the Wisconsin football team and made it.

There was never a kicker like Pat O’Dea. It was nothing for him to dropkick a 60-yard field goal. His punts went into orbit; once he kicked one more than 100 yards on the fly! With those great legs, and because he hailed from Australia, he was nicknamed the Kangaroo. He became one of the first football players known throughout America. His fans–and everybody was a Pat O’Dea fan–gave him no peace. Wherever he went, he was asked for his autograph. People just wanted to touch him or hear his voice.

His fame did not diminish after he graduated. O’Dea couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without being mobbed. Finally Pat O’Dea just vanished.

Nobody knew what had happened to him. Was he kidnapped and held for ransom? Did he leave the country secretly? Was he dead and buried somewhere?

Seventeen years after he disappeared; Pat O’Dea was found. He was living in a small town. He had changed his name to Charles Mitchell. His neighbors hadn’t known who he really was. O’Dea explained that he had run away because he wanted to live a quiet life, which was impossible under the name Pat O’Dea.

Once his identity was revealed, Pat O’Dea became famous all over again. For the rest of his life he remained one of America’s greatest football idols.

From The Giant Book of More Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.’Dea

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When you can walk its length, and leave no trace, you will have learned.


  1. There are lots of problems with this story.  The first is that O’Dea was actually a star player in Australia before coming to the US.  Different rules, but similar game–especially as the US version was played back then which is almost nothing like today. 
    He was such a big star in WI that the team even wrote a song for him.  The lyrics are on the Wikipedia page.
    After he graduated, he coached Notre Dame and did well for two seasons–until he quit at the last minute before a matchup with a professional team.  He decided to coach the pros, but his replacement at Notre Dame still beat him.  Then he coached in Missouri for a season, then he went to CA to work as a lawyer with the degree he got from Notre Dame.
    There is some debate as to his motivation for disappearing and one of the more plausible stories is that he stole money from a client.  But, when he resurfaced 17 years later it seems nobody cared about it because we do love our sports idols in this country.
    He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame a day before he died in 1962.
    The whole Guardian story is worth reading.

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