Build The Butkus Statue

Jul 03, 2014

There are two.

Two sides to Memorial Stadium. We call them East and West. Your seats are in the West Main or maybe they're in the East Balcony. A few years ago, the west side became the Grange side. A statue, outside the walls, dead center on the 50, memorializing the greatest college football player of all time. That's the Grange side.

It's time for a Butkus side.

There are two Illini players listed on ESPN's top 25 college football players of all time. Two. Ohio State doesn't have two. Nebraska doesn't have two. Wisconsin, Penn State, Alabama... they don't even have one. But Illinois has two. One of only five schools to have two players on the list. Oh, and one of our guys is ranked #1.

There are two retired numbers at Illinois. Sacred numbers. #77 and #50. I can't imagine another retired number in my lifetime. Think about it. THAT'S the bar some player would have to leap. The third retired number would have to fit in this sentence: "There are only three retired numbers: Grange, Butkus, and Jones." Do you understand the type of career that Jones would have to have in order to join that club?

For as far as I can see, Illinois football will be two names: Grange and Butkus. They're emblazoned at the top of our stadium tower now. One of them has a statue on the west side. This is my plea for a second statue on the east side.

Think about this: The Grange Side is the tailgating side. From the main tailgating lot to the six pack to the State Farm Center lots on the west side, look to the stadium and you'll see Red presiding over the festivities. If you're a Loyalty Circle donor, he's right there, looming over your tailgate, carefully watching if your parking space is empty.

The east side of the stadium is different. The lawn areas there are not tailgating lots - they're the practice fields. You're tracking with me now. If Red is going to watch over the tailgaters, who better to watch over practice than Dick Butkus? Would YOU take it easy if he was always watching? Yes, Mr. Butkus. Whatever you say, Mr. Butkus. You're right, I really could have given more effort, Mr. Butkus.

Do you know who "yes sir's" Mr. Butkus? Chicago yes sir's Mr. Butkus. We spend a lot of time and effort trying to connect Champaign to Chicago, and with good reason. Michigan is connected to Detroit, Ohio State dominates Cleveland and Cincinnati, Missouri has re-established connections with St. Louis and Kansas City, and Illinois needs to do the same with Chicago. Is there any better way to do that than to remind every Chicago Bears fan that Mr. Butkus played in Champaign?

I've heard the complaint that statues are to memorialize, and erecting a statue of a living person is rushing the process. Two responses: 1) When Chicago fans enter the United Center, they pass the Jordan statue. When Cardinals fans meet at Busch Stadium, they meet at the Musial Statue (erected decades before his death last year). Also, 2) YOU tell Dick Butkus he has to wait to get his statue.

Memorial Stadium is somewhat unique in a conference of bowl stadiums. Yes, there's a horseshoe connecting the sides and a new north endzone for the students, but overall, this stadium is defined by two very large, balcony-overhanging grandstands. Two grandstands. Two.

There are two players from the University of Illinois who redefined their position. Red Grange was the game's first superstar and Dick Butkus defined a new era of defense. There are two sidelines, two goalposts, two orange endzones. There are two sets of columns inside the stadium bearing the names of fallen men and women from World War I. And there's one statue outside of that stadium.

There should be two.


Lou-a-villini on July 03 @ 12:51 PM CDT

Yet another example of why Robert should be on the payroll for the N-G. Brilliant! Let me know when the petition is ready....

tonyes7 on July 03 @ 12:57 PM CDT

100% right on. Let me know when the petition is ready.

dwalker444 on July 03 @ 01:08 PM CDT

This is a very good idea and I heartily agree that there is no time like the present. We need to keep this objective at the center of attention and push to make it happen. As a two way player, the Butkus Memorial would serve as inspiration (and aspiration?) for both the offense and defense. A very good idea, indeed.

Hhsillini on July 03 @ 01:41 PM CDT

Awesome piece once again, Roberto! Go Illini!!!

Sweetchuck13 on July 03 @ 02:10 PM CDT

Amen Robert! Hopefully you also sent this to Mike Thomas as well. I think they have time to get this in place by the kickoff of the 2015 home opener, with a special "Dick Butkus Day" to dedicate it and honor Mr. Butkus.

Glaze on July 03 @ 04:17 PM CDT

Awesome article, Robert.

Let's get a kickstarter campaign started. I'll pledge 50 bucks.

castiger1 on July 03 @ 05:02 PM CDT

agree, and I will chip in some to build it, not much I'm not rich, but something!

IlliniGuy35 on July 03 @ 05:26 PM CDT

OT - But I have never seen the amount of Junior College recruiting anywhere like what Beckman's staff is doing. I dont even think Kansas State does this. This is going to be a disaster for the new coaching staff, whoever takes over for Beckman if Beckman cant win this way. They are going to be left with very few 4 and 5 yr program kids to work with.

Going to be a total rebuild if Beckman fails. You dont build foundations with 2 and 3 yr kids. This is either going to work, and Beckman will continue to do it. Or it fails, and this program is nuked for at least the next 5 yrs.

larue on July 03 @ 05:59 PM CDT

We have what, about a dozen on the current roster? Three committed for the next class. That might not be ideal, but it doesn't look extreme to me. We had immediate needs at receiver and defensive line that had to be addressed.

dwalker444 on July 03 @ 06:16 PM CDT

Yes, and I was under the impression that our class balance had been negatively impacted by the failure rate of prior recruits (before Beckman) so positional needs and class balance were both being addressed. Perhaps I misunderstood?

IlliniGuy35 on July 03 @ 09:06 PM CDT

15+ JUCOS is almost an entire recruiting class of 4/5 yr freshman that were never recruited. Its going to be a big problem down the road. Once you take this many JUCOS every year, you get left with very small freshman classes and its a never ending cycle. It'll be a disaster that the new coaching staff would have to clean up - and that would take years. When you are missing almost 1 entire class of freshman recruits - you dont just make that up. This is a very dangerous precedent that Beckman is trying out. In fact, its never been tried before to this degree.

larue on July 03 @ 09:13 PM CDT

I don't know that we'll be getting to 15+, some of them are going to graduate before the '15 class comes in. 12 or 14 jucos distributed over different classes on an 85 man roster doesn't look like a disaster to me though, again, not ideal.

IlliniGuy35 on July 04 @ 12:12 AM CDT

2013- 23 recruits - 17 HS seniors & 6 JUCOs (left - since Douglas left) 2014 - 17 recruits - 11 HS seniors & 6 JUCOs (left - since Domer not admitted) 2015 - 10 recruits - 7 HS seniors & 3 JUCOs so far

In 2016, lets say 75% of the HS seniors stay in all 4 yrs from that 2013 class. There would be 13 4yr program seniors. Not a bad number. Little low but ok.

In 2017, that number drops to 8. In 2018, remains to be seen.

Its hard to win football games when you dont have seniors that have been in the program 4 and 5 yrs.

Is anyone else in the Big 10 doing this? Below are the number of JUCO recruits for each Big 10 team from 2013-2015:

Purdue- 2 Minnesota - 4 Indiana - 4 Northwestern - 0 Iowa - 2 Michigan- 0 Michigan State - 1 Ohio State- 1 Rutgers - 0 Maryland- 4 Wisconsin -4 Nebraska- 5 Penn State - 2 Illinois - 15

I rest my case. If there was an advantage to doing this type of recruiting, then more schools would do it. But there are no advantages. Its only setting up a huge disadvantage down the road.

larue on July 04 @ 08:03 AM CDT

I guess I'll have to reply to my own post since I can't reply to yours. You are, at that point, talking about one year with an unfortunately low number of seniors. That still doesn't look like a disaster to me.

What would you have done about the D line and receiving corps?

larue on July 04 @ 08:49 AM CDT

And you have to account for some of the jucos (Kanteman, Barr, Stone-Davis, Phillips) having more than two years eligibility left.

larue on July 03 @ 10:29 PM CDT

And on topic, the Butkus statue is something that absolutely should happen, as soon as possible. He deserves the honor, and it would be a great thing for the program.

EJ33 on July 03 @ 11:18 PM CDT

Great idea, great article.

DB50 on July 04 @ 07:18 AM CDT

A fresh idea which is has great merit! The best D1 linebacker annually is recognized by an award bearing #50's last name. One of the few things the NCAA was spot on about, naming an award for the greatest linebacker of all-time. What better statue to the east side of the stadium and practice field!!!

jdl on July 04 @ 09:24 AM CDT

It's not ideal but something you have to take a chance on given what Zook left. And larue is right, you have to adjust the numbers - Kanteman is a freshman, Stone-Davis, Barr and Carroll have 3 years each.

If we're still taking 5+ JC guys in the next couple of classes, then it's a problem. But I suspect those numbers will drop off to 1-2 per class.

IlliniGuy35 on July 04 @ 01:36 PM CDT

If that was the case, the drop off would have occurred in this current 2015 class. Beckman did not "have" to do anything. Some coaches take their lumps and recruit HS seniors knowing down the road it will pay off. Nobody else in the Big 10 is doing it this way, and Illinois is not the only bad team in the Big 10. Rutgers, Purdue, Indiana are all in the same boat and their coaches are not mining the JUCO ranks to this extent. As I wrote yesterday, its never been tried before. Its going to be a complete rebuild for the next coach if this does not work assuming the next coach would want to only recruit high schoolers which most do. When you have low amounts of high school seniors being taken each class, you have to in future years take JUCOs to supplement those HS senior classes. It will never stop once you go down that path. It cant unless you want to get class balance way out of order,. I dont have to adjust the numbers. The point is that programs are built on 4 and 5yr program guys, and taking this many JUCOS subtracts those years of experience down the road. When Wisconsin and Iowa are playing system kids that have been there 4 and 5 yrs, and Illinois is countering with 2 and 3 yr kids - its a disadvantage. This is not program building. This is quick fix free agent band-aid type of stuff. Its why no other schools in the Big 10 are doing it.

jdl on July 06 @ 07:25 AM CDT

You've just repeated yourself, nothing new. Yes, it's a quick fix, a decision Beckman made to address the gaping holes in the last 2 Zook classes. The "it will never stop" part remains to be seen.

illinibacker on July 04 @ 09:50 AM CDT

Great article, and agree wholeheartedly!

Let's get this done!!

HiggsBoson on July 04 @ 12:36 PM CDT

Absolutely agree, Robert! My checkbook is open for a Butkus statue project (unfortunatley, I can't just pay for it all). Butkus was the greatest player of my lifetime.

rml on July 04 @ 04:47 PM CDT

Butkus statue is a great idea.
I would also be in favor of that side of the stadium having something with both Butkus and Nitschke (and maybe Studwell), reminding prospects, players, and fans of Illinois' legacy of great defensive players getting to and excelling in the pros. (If there's one thing that great HS players want even more than playing on a great college team, it's making it to the pros. Illini players go on play on Sundays, and excel there.)
And maybe one thing even more terrifying that Butkus looking over the practice field would be Butkus AND Nitschke.

Illinigrad on July 04 @ 05:07 PM CDT

  1. Nitschke, IIRC, mainly played fullback for UI.
  2. Butkus statue is a no-brainer.
  3. White recruited heavily in the JUCO ranks. Doing so did not hurt the program long-term.

Grogs on July 08 @ 12:15 PM CDT

Baylor just announced that they are unveiling an RGIII statue this year. Um, what? Things must be slow at the statue factory. Agree 100% with the Butkus idea though. Now more than ever after reading about itchy trigger finger Baylor.

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