This legendary Playboy mansion tale we’re about to re-examine again is either a.) the worst kept secret in Illini football history or
b.) the biggest lie ever told in the history of the program
This “urban legend” from 32 years ago is a timeless and perfect topic of discussion, especially this week when Illinois is set to host Purdue. Thus, episode four of “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” (part of the Hammer and Rails podcast network) focuses on the ’83 Illini.
Click on the above to hear the pod, hosted on Purdue’s SB Nation. Enjoy!
With a record of 10-1, Illinois was ranked in the top 5 nationally, when they took on an unranked 6-4-1 UCLA team in the 1984 Rose Bowl. The Bruins absolutely destroyed the Illini 45-9, and we had a conversation with Rick Neuheisel, the QB for the Bruins that day and now an Analyst for College Football on CBS.
His comments on the game and the Playboy mansion rumor are posted in a separate article linked here.
The story goes like this:
The team was out very late the previous evening, attending a wild New Year’s Eve party at the Playboy Mansion, hosted by University of Illinois alum Hugh Hefner (class of ’49). What we found, after doing hours after extensive research, is that at least one person, somewhere, isn’t telling the truth.
We found published reports from credible sources, completely discredited by other published reputable sources.
In other words, something suspicious occurred, because the facts don’t all add up, and not all the stories corroborate.
The last time that Illini football experts, let’s just call them historians, revisited this story was 2007, as Illinois was preparing to make their next and most recent Rose Bowl trip.
In his Decatur Herald-Review column on 12-3-07, Mark Tupper offered this tongue in cheek remark:
The “experts” expect the Illini to show up late for the game after a New Year’s Eve blowout at the Playboy Mansion, a party hosted by University of Illinois alum Hugh Hefner.
Mike Downey, in his Chicago Tribune op-ed on 12-30-07, referenced it too, and even asked Hef himself about it directly.
The bath-robed swinger would neither confirm nor deny this story:
As for the greatest Illini party-thrower of them all, Hefner says he has no specific memories of the 1984 party.
However: “My memories are kind of ongoing. I always keep an eye on what the Illini are doing and I’m extremely excited about what they’ve done this year.”
As the years went by, the Rose Bowl didn’t smell so sweet. Illinois won one in 1964 but hasn’t been able to since.
Hefner endeavored to inspire them, in his unique way, 20 years later when the Champaign party finally earned a return. He threw a lavish garden party for the entire squad, giving a guided tour of the Grotto, the game room, the reptile room, the lay of the land.
I thought if anything could put the Fighting back in the Illini, that would.
I thought they would feel frisky after meeting all those Bunnies, but instead, coach Mike White’s 10-1 Illini proceeded to get their ears pinned back by a truly ordinary UCLA team (5-4-1) by a truly embarrassing 45-9.
Multiple outlets reported that the Illini football team did not visit the Playboy Mansion during the 2007 Rose Bowl trip.
During the lead-up to the ’07 visit, Loren Tate did a retrospective for the Champaign News-Gazette (12-28-07) that attempted, but failed to discredit the 1983 rumor. Tate filed from Los Angeles:
“The Playboy visit was a mere bleep on the wide screen. Buses brought the entourage, and the players got out and walked the grounds and the first floor of the mansion. Former Illini Hefner spoke. There wasn’t a female in sight. In an hour or so, the players boarded the buses and left. It was no distraction whatsoever.”
Tate’s account directly contradicts this Ron Rapoport article from the Chicago Sun-Times on 12-22-83. You can see from this PDF of his column, syndicated by the Spokane Chronicle, a photo of Jack Trudeau (who else would you expect?) with two Playboy bunnies.
It’s a clear picture of Trudeau, with a centerfold kissing him on each cheek:
Rapoport’s feature, provocatively titled “Illinois Squad Earns Romp Down Bunny Trail” describes in detail the players flirting with the models, and vocalizing just how much they enjoy the girls’ uhm, vocational prowess.
I suggest you read the entire piece at this link, but I’ve also taken the liberty of including a screen shot of the most interesting passage here:
In other words, Rapoport and the Chicago Sun-Times article discredit what Tate and the Champaign News-Gazette published 24 years later. Also, his story features a photo reiterating his account, and proving false Tate’s “nary a female in sight” narrative.
While Rapoport’s story doesn’t in any way affirm the New Year’s Eve party story, it certainly makes the rumor seem much more plausible and definitely believable.
It’s also worth mentioning, because for some odd reason, no one else who wrote retrospectives on this did, that the game was actually played on January 2.
New Year’s Day, the traditional day upon which the Rose Bowl is played, fell on a Sunday and there is a non-compete agreement with the NFL in place. Hence you had a full recovery day sandwiched between game day and a hypothetical raucous New Year’s Eve party.
Is this epic Illini football tale fact or fiction?
Declare your opinion in the comments section below.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, partnered with FOX Sports Engage Network. and News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, currently contributes regularly to the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye publication and Bold Global.