Class of 2011
Hometown: Arcata, CA
U.S. National Championships
2x U.S. Club Champion (1983, 1986)
2x U.S. Masters Champion (2004, 2009)
2x U.S. Club Runner Up (1987, 1994)
4x World Champion (1984, 1995, 2002, 2010)
Michael O’Dowd was one of the greatest players of his generation; he loves the game of ultimate and what it stands for. Michael was a fierce competitor who always built a bond with his opponent; he was a defensive stopper, innovator and master scout/coach. Prior to playing ultimate, Mike was a three-sport athlete and an accomplished disc player (disc golf, freestyle, DDC, guts, self-caught flight) which gave him a distinct advantage in ultimate. Mike had all the disc skills, speed, size and a toughness that let him dictate the outcome of a game. Michael could throw goals from anywhere on the field; quick transition goals were his specialty. But one man does not succeed without great mentors and a strong team in the game of ultimate.
Mike had amazing teammates to push and inspire him to greatness. “Knock-down- drag-out” practices for Windy City made tournaments easy. Teammates include Hall of famer Michael Glass. Playmaker, John Conway taught Mike the finer points of leadership. Joey Giampino gave Mike the opportunity to guard the best receiver in the game four times a week. Fellow defensive captain Dean Smith relentlessly pushed Mike and Windy City to practice, train, and play harder than seemed possible, ” Never enough”.
Mike started the Windy City team with Carey Goldenberg; within four years Mike organized it, nurtured it, drove it to win the National and World Championship by the age of 21. Mike won Championships with every team he played on after Chicago. San Francisco, Idaho/Montana, and his own Northwest masters team Troubled Past. Mike retired as UPA Champion and World Champion and after winning in the UPA Championship in October 2009 and World Championship in Prague in August 2010.
Michael lives in Arcata, California and is married to former UPA Champion, Alison O’Dowd. They have twin girls, Jasmine and Cassidy, born in 2010.
Contributions & Service
- 1983: Sectional coordinator in Chicago in 1983 in the central region.
- Started and ran the first two years of Tune-up out of my station wagon in Evanston, Illinois and Lake Forest, Illinois respectively. Tune-up has become a very large tournament.
- 1992: In a TV special for ABC's Wide World of Sports with professional NFL players Sterling and Shannon Sharpe where he demonstrated a game of ultimate on national TV
- 1993: Served as the head observer at Nationals for a very physical and heated semifinal game between Boston and New York at the UPA’s request.
- 1993: Head observer for Nationals finals, by request of competing teams
- 1995: Head observer at Nationals women's finals
- 1998-1999: Coach: Jam (SF Bay Area Open team)
- 2001-2003: Coach: Heroine (SF Bay Area Open team)
- 2005-2009: Northwest Masters Regional Coordinator
- 2006-2009: Served as a contributing writer for the UPA Magazine for the pre-UPA Championship issue and the daily reporter at the UPA Club Championships event for four years
- 2008-2011: Coach: Humboldt State University (Men’s College team in Arcata, California)
- Served on the Hall of Fame refinement committee and I have always extended my help anytime the UPA/USA Ultimate has called
U.S. National Championships
|1983||Windy City Club Men||1st|
|1984||Windy City Club Men||3rd|
|1985||Windy City Club Men||3rd|
|1986||Windy City Club Men||1st|
|1987||Windy City Club Men||2nd|
|1988||Windy City Club Men||3rd|
|1989||Windy City Club Men||5th|
|1990||Windy City Club Men||3rd|
|1991||Windy City Club Men||5th|
|1992||Windy City Club Men||3rd|
|1993||Windy City Club Men||5th|
|1994||Double Happiness Club Men||2nd|
|1995||Double Happiness Club Men||3rd|
|2002||KAVU Masters Men||3rd|
|2003||KAVU Masters Men||3rd|
|2004||KAVU Masters Men||1st|
|2005||KAVU Masters Men||4th|
|2007||Troubled Past Masters Men||3rd|
|2008||Troubled Past Masters Men||3rd|
|2009||Troubled Past Masters Men||1st|
|1984||WUGC Luzern, Switzerland||Windy City Club Men||1st|
|1991||WUCC Toronto, ON||Windy City Club Men||3rd|
|1993||WUCC Madison, Wisconsin||Windy City Club Men||5th|
|1995||WUCC Millfield, UK||Double Happiness Club Men||1st|
|2002||WUCC Honolulu, Hawaii||Vigi Club Men||1st|
|2010||WUCC Praha-Revnov, Czech Republic||Troubled Past Masters Men||1st|
What position(s) (e.g., handler, deep cutter. middle middle) did you usually play?
This process has been an awkward one for many reasons. The main one is I am a team guy and have always put the group’s needs ahead of my own. Anything I did or great plays I made or great games I played were always to contribute to the cause. I did it out of love for my teammates. I am very honored to be nominated, but shy about putting myself ahead of any one of my teammates. Was I the man? Yes. But my main reason for doing the things I did was to teach/inspire teammates how to win through preparation, sheer will and hustle. I put a priority on spreading fun, keeping a winning positive attitude and to turn any event with my team up a couple of notches whether it be on the field or not.
Having two of my teammates dead and buried (Dean Smith & Joey Giampino) with no recognition for their contribution or prowess as players makes any credit I receive seem ill-timed and unjust. I take care of my own family/team job one. So this has been a very emotional process to say the least.
My position on all the teams I played on was that of captain, organizer, general manager, playtime decider, strategist, defensive match-up maker, defensive stopper on the other team’s main/best player. I always played handler on offense because of my skill set. As an individual disc competitor prior to Ultimate my throwing skills were exceptional. The disc was always in my hands. My position was game changer. When we won, I deserved the credit. When we lost, I deserved the blame. My teams won most of the time. I was always the most dominant player on my team.
My career as a player in the Open division at Nationals spanned fifteen years. So the highlight reel is long. Another ten years in the Masters division came with another two National titles and a World championship in Prague in 2010.
Describe your major accomplishments – both as a teammate and an individual player?
My major accomplishment was making all of the wonderful friends I have through ultimate over the years. The bond and the incredible moments I have shared with teammates and my opponents have been the biggest reward in my life. I’ve been truly blessed to be able to compete at such a very high level and enjoy a strong relationship with the people I have played against in the moment. The private conversations, inside jokes, and off the field experiences I have shared with rivals have generated the strongest feelings of being in tune with the spirit of the game. As current World Champion it still goes on as recent as last summer in Prague. This sport will touch your heart, if you let it, and fill you up with love. This sport is filled with so many special people it is a major accomplishment to connect with as many as I have.
Early on, my major accomplishment was starting my own team from scratch with one other guy and then mothering it through four years later into a National and World title. Captaining a National champion team at the age of 21 was everything. I played a strong enough 1983 final game to give Pat King an epiphany of how it should be done. His leadership and play led New York later on to their titles. I have so many people ask me about “that catch” (from the finals of Nationals in 1983). That game as well as the 1986 UPA final game would best describe who I am and whether I am deserving to be in the Hall of Fame (I will try and get that game on youtube.com by December 16th titled 1983 UPA open finals). Words and people’s opinions are hard to measure. But if you give that one game a look I think you might have some insight as to who I am and what I meant to the sport or my team/opponent.
I inspired people through passion. I felt then as I do now; that I always had more to give than anyone else. More hustle, more understanding, more edge, more confidence, more sheer will. I knew I would make winning plays before they would happen. Why? Because I had to. If there was ever a question who was going to make the most important play, I knew it would be me. Not because I’m so rad. It was my love of competing in a team setting and blowing my teammates away so they would try to become great. Make them keep up. If you go that extra mile for your brethren, they get inspired and play at a higher level themselves. The sum of the parts is that higher existence.
It’s like a hydroplane boat getting out of the water at optimum speed. That is what team is all about. When you are experiencing something like that it is a group “high” like no other. I live for taking things to that level. It’s what I do.
I know in my heart that I changed lives. Even up to the summer of 2010 my main concern was helping friends/teammates that have never won titles to get their “rings”. When I started my own Masters division team, Troubled Past, it was my baby. I did everything from picking the players on the team, to winning the games, to cleaning up the trash on the field afterward. But the end result was that twentyone players won their first National Championship (2009) and World Championship (2010). Those guys could go home to their families as Champions. I love that. I live for that stuff. I live for picking up the whole team and taking it to a higher place. It doesn’t stop. It is who I am. It goes on at work everyday and with my family everyday. I always have more to give.
I also ran the “Friendship Tours” in Japan with my good friend Masa Honda (the Godfather of Japanese ultimate) for six years from 1990 to 1995. I usually took 10-14 of the best players from the United States (several current and future Hall of Famers participated) to teach and grow the sport of Ultimate in Japan. All of the trips were all expense paid trips for the American players all over the country of Japan for two weeks at a time. Sometimes we taught in 100 degree weather. Sometimes we taught 300 players in a day. It was tougher than the American players thought it would be. They earned their free trip no doubt. We grew the sport in Japan to such a great level that the Japanese won three out of the four divisions at the World Championships in Perth, Australia (2006). I was proud enough for tears even though I am American.
I went back to Japan for 2008 for the “Dream Cup” tournament and received a standing ovation from 3000 Japanese players at the event. I knew what I had done over the years, but to get that recognition was amazing. My wife, Alison could not understand why we were treated as royalty and were not allowed to pay for a drink or dinner anywhere. I was both embarrassed and rocked to my soul. I knew they understood how much I had done and how much I cared about Japanese ultimate. We moved the sport in Japan at a high rate of speed to catch up to the United States. My feeling of major accomplishment there was for all of the Japanese players to get inspired by all of the incredible American talent we brought to Japan.
But for me, one of the major accomplishments of the Friendship Tours was to take the key players on different powerhouse teams at Nationals and make them friends with each other. Players from Boston, New York, LA, Portland, SF Bay Area, Chicago, Florida, Colorado all had to room together, teach together, eat together travel together and became fast friends. Everyone that traveled with me to Japan had a bigger picture of their own individual place in the sport. They understood just a little bit better how much love, caring, respect, sharing and friendship was exactly what ultimate was really about. Some of those players became significant others, some stood up in each other’s weddings, some became close friends for life. Each year that specific friendship tour was a major accomplishment. The amount of positive change in many lives, attitudes and understanding of what spirit really meant was palpable. I loved that opportunity and what Masa Honda and I were able to do with it. Turning the Americans on to the spirit and fun of the Japanese culture and amazing group of Japanese ultimate players was another life changer for the American players that came to Japan to teach the game. The American players came back to the States with a better understanding of respect and harmony that changed them forever. The Japanese have a magical way of touching your heart, and they were so openly appreciative of our efforts.
Describe your playing career.
- 1975 – started playing ultimate at age 13 in an asphalt parking lot in Wilmette, Illinois with a master (original type of ultimate disc).
- 1976-1978 – beginnings of initial Chicago ultimate group (before Windy City was formed), played weekly (Sundays) at disc golf course at Gilson Park in Wilmette, Illinois.
- 1979 – started New Trier East High School team (15 players) and league (six teams) in northern suburbs of Chicago.
- 1979 – started Windy City with Carey Goldenberg by sending out invites via mailing list to Chicago disc players to tryout for ultimate team.
- 1980 – expanded High School league to eight teams and ran High School league and my High School team (New Trier East). Won year-end tournament.
- 1979-1993: Played with Windy City (captain).
- 1994-96: Played with Double Happiness (San Francisco Bay Area Open team)
- 1998-99: Coached Jam (SF Bay Area Open team)
- 2001-2003: Coached Heroine (SF Bay Area Women’s team)
- 2002-2005: Played with and Captain of KAVU (Montana/Idaho Masters team)
- 2007-2010: Played with and Captain of Troubled Past (Arcata, CA Masters team)
Describe your significant tournament involvement.
- Sectionals in Madison, Wisconsin in 1980 with Windy City (3rd place)
- Central Regional Championship, 1980 in Lexington, Kentucky with Windy City (10th place)
- 1980 – Flew to watch Nationals as a spectator in Atlanta, Georgia.
- 1981 – competed with Windy City at Sectionals (1st place) and Central Regionals (3rd place).
- 1981- Flew to watch Nationals as spectator in Austin, Texas.
- 1982 – won East Lansing, Michigan tournament (1st place) and qualified/played at 1982 World Disc Games in Santa Cruz, California with Windy City (6th place).
- 1983 & 1984 – Played with Windy City and finished 3rd place in the World Disc Games in Santa Cruz, California.
- 1984 – Won Easterns with Windy City in Washington D.C. (1st place)
- 1984 – Won the World Championship in Lucerne, Switzerland with Windy City (1st place)
- 1985 – Competed with Windy City at Worlds in Santa Cruz, California (5th)
- 1988 – Put together a hand-picked all-star team (the Whores) to play at Solstice in Eugene, Oregon. I put a different team together each year and did not lose a single game at Solstice for nearly ten years (1st place from 1988 to 1996). In the tenth year (1997), we finally lost a game in the semifinals (finished 3rd place). Won Solstice in 1998 (1st place). I ran the team, called subs and was a main player for all of these years at Solstice.
- 1990 – Won Boulder, CO Invitational with Windy City (1st place)
- 1991 – Went undefeated at World Championships in Toronto, Canada in pool play with younger revamped Windy City roster. This included beating a stacked New York team in a storied game. Lost in semis to Boston.
- 1993 – Played at World Championships in Madison, Wisconsin, lost in quarters to Rhino (5th place).
- Competed with Windy City at all major tournaments on both coasts as well as regional events from 1982 through 1993. Windy City competed in too many tournaments to mention (Fools, Easterns, Boulder, Santa Barbara Classic, Worlds etc.).
Why did you stand out among the elite players of your time? What was it that you did best, or were known for?
I knew I could dictate the outcome of any game I was in. You were not going to stop me and I was going to grind your best player into the ground by pushing him as hard as I could for however long it would take until he broke. Mentally I was tougher, physically I was stronger, my toughness was always an edge and I knew I was going to beat you before the game started. I over-prepared in the gym and never missed a practice. I was aggressive, smart, and a better disc player than my opponent. I knew in my heart that you didn’t work as hard as me, you didn’t do as many sprints, and you didn’t have such a wonderful sparring partner like Joey Giampino to push you in practice four days a week. You were not ready for what I was coming with. I was intimidating to that elite group. My throwing skills meant I could attack the endzone from anywhere on the field. I made things easy for my receivers by being a great passer and by having exceptional timing, anticipation of what would happen next and use of space. I threw a lot of goals from 30 yards and further. On a turnover, I could power transition goals in with my will, hard cutting and if need be give-and-go all day. My endurance and ability to push things to another level late in games/tournaments when everyone was tired was a noticeable advantage.
My hammer was the first in the game that flew in any wind and I used it as a regular throw. I could singlehandedly take any team we played out of their zone with my hammer. My hammer also broke the force/mark over and over. I was a new version of ultimate player when I came onto the scene because of my size, energy, attitude, defensive prowess and throwing skills.
What was your role with the best (or most overachieving) team that you played on?
My role, on every team I ever played for, as stated above was captain of the defense. So it made it very easy to take over games and finish them. I always assigned matchups for every player on the defensive line because I did my homework on the other team’s players. I could tell a player what their favorite throw was and how they cut after watching one game. I could usually give you a scouting report on what we had to do to stop the other team. I loved to study other players individual tendencies and what the other team’s patterns and forces were, I still do.
What year was the peak of your career? If you continued playing after your peak years, how did your role change? In what year did you stop playing at the top competitive level?
When was I a stud? I was a stud and main player for all of the years on Windy City (1979-1993) and with Double Happiness (1994-95). I hurt my knee in 1995, so after that I moved to being more of an offensive player. From 1995 to the present, I would play offense and a little bit of defense. But the last three years I controlled the game more as a General Manager/Coach and plugged holes as an offensive player.
When did I stop playing at a competitive level? I am current World Masters Champion from summer 2010, so I guess if I didn’t have baby twin girls, I could still go right now. I still love to train. Bring it!
Why do you believe you are worthy of being inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame?
As I stated above, I know I took the game I loved and changed it. From my first Nationals in 1982 to my last in 2009, I was a force to be reckoned with. I was a stud player that dictated who won the game. I took the team and put it on my shoulders over and over. I lived for the moments when the game was in the balance and could feel my opportunity to shine and pounce. I always relished the tough periods when everyone was exhausted on both teams. Those were times to take advantage of my mental edge to push a little harder, a little faster and just a little bit more than whoever the sorry person I was playing against. I have always been a leader of every team. My disc skills allowed me to do things that no other players were doing at the time. I was a new generation of player that had all the tools and the grrr to use them over and over. My longevity over thirty-five years has proven that my love of the game will always be superior.
I can still remember the moment that I decided I was going to make my mark on the sport at age 17 in 1979 when UPA founder Tom Kennedy stayed at my house during an individual golf and double disc court tournament in Chicago. From that weekend forward, I made my own team from scratch, took it to Nationals and Worlds and took over in each of the championship games to bring Windy City to victory. I followed that up with more titles. But I think I became a great ambassador of the sport as a champion. I changed lives for the better and inspired ultimate players to be spirited and to respect the game and do things the right way.