Build The Butkus Statue
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.