Dick Butkus has passed away at the age of 80. To honor this icon, we now re-publish the exclusive that we had with the middle linebacker extraordinaire in July of 2017 in three parts.
Part Two Dick Butkus Describing the Golden Opportunity for Illini Football
Statement from Bret Bielema
I am saddened to learn of the passing of Dick Butkus, the greatest linebacker in football history.
As the head coach of his alma mater that he loved, I had the great honor to meet Dick, one of my childhood idols, last September. He was an amazing person, as well as football player, and a loyal Illini.
Shakespeare famously said “past is prologue,” and Dick Butkus is hoping that the Illini football program can repeat the glorious history that he helped make. In the inaugural Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame class, Butkus is as much a “this individual needs no introduction” as possible.
In Illini football lore, there’s Dick Butkus and Red Grange, and then there’s everybody else. The nation’s top linebacker, at both the high school and collegiate level, receives the “Butkus Award” each season, and that says it all.
Butkus met the media Friday ahead of the inaugural Hall of Fame gala at the Field Museum of Natural History, and told reporters about the state of Illini football when he arrived on campus, and how that changed over the course of his Illini career.
“When I first got to Illinois, their football record wasn’t very good and my sophomore year we started to turn it around,” he said.
And the following year we were in the Rose Bowl so it was a quick turnaround and I can attribute that to the great recruiting that Pete Elliott and Bill Taylor did in the Chicago area.
Butkus, who hails from the south side of Chicago and attended Chicago Vocational School, said he considers Champaign his “second home,” due to the immense loyalty the fans had for the team, even in those lean years.
It’s very lean times again at Memorial Stadium, and we asked Dick Butkus if current head coach Lovie Smith can accomplish a Pete Elliott level revitalization.
I’m hoping he can,” the greatest linebacker ever responded.
“What I don’t understand is these kids today, they don’t want to go to a program where they can be significant in turning it around, I don’t understand that.”
What’s the deal with going to a school that’s won a couple times, Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know, but I had an opportunity to go to a couple schools that were already winners and chose Illinois because of the coaching staff,” the man who finished third in 1964 Heisman Trophy voting continued.
When you talk about Lovie and the coaching staff, they’re going to have to convince these kids ‘ hey, do you want to be a part of a program where we get you and a few other guys and we turn this program around, it’s a tough sell with the kids 0f today.
“Everyone wants to be a winner, but no one wants to work for it, cmon!”
Butkus also lamented Illinois failure to win consistently, despite being in a very populous and exceedingly talent rich state.
It’s a shame that we’re not up there where we should be each and every year in football,” the college and pro hall of famer continued.
I don’t know what’s going on with the players from this state, but they’re missing a golden opportunity to not only play for your home state, but it’s a great school for after your playing days, or if you don’t end up playing in the pros.
Great education, you can’t beat it, so I wonder why kids leave the state of Illinois I really do.
Some millenials may have rolled their eyes at his “kids these days” comments, and if that’s you, brace yourself because Dick Butkus has some more of that to give you.
It’s different for kids these days, they want to go to Alabama and all these schools that are winning and nobody wants to go to a school where there’s an opportunity to turn it around.
I went there we turned it around and we still have friendships with the guys that did that and it meant a lot more to me than just going to a perennial Big Ten school that wins all the time.
I thought it was better to accept the challenge and make something of nothing.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He’s written for numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune. He regularly appears on NTD News and WGN News Now. Follow the website on Twitter and Instagram.