The University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics announced Monday morning that Fighting Illini legend Dick Butkus will have a statue built overlooking the entrance to a newly constructed football performance center which is expected to be completed in 2019.
Dick Butkus is widely acclaimed as one of the best players in college football history and often is cited as the game’s greatest linebacker.
Butkus played center and linebacker from 1962 through 1964 for the Illini and was a member of the 1963 Illinois Rose Bowl winning team. He was a two-time consensus All-American. He finished sixth in voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1963 and 1964, a rare occurrence for a defensive player.
The Dick Butkus Award is given out to the nation's’ top linebacker in Butkus’ honor annually.
After his Illinois career, Dick Butkus went to play for the Chicago Bears in the NFL. In his 9 year career Butkus was named to the pro-bowl team eight times and was a six time first team All-Pro, and two time second team All-Pro. He won the defensive player of the year award twice (1969, 1970). He was further named both the 1960s and 1970s All-Decade teams.
Butkus is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame (Inducted 1983) and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Inducted 1979).
Butkus, whose jersey number, 50, is already retired by the football program — along with Red Grange’s No. 77 — will be joining Grange as the only two players to be cast in bronze outside Memorial Stadium.
Illinois’ Athletic Director Josh Whitman had this to say about Butkus: "Dick Butkus is the greatest defensive player in the history of football, and he embodies the identity of the Illinois football program. His toughness was legendary. His competitiveness was unparalleled. And, his Illini pride is without peer. As we construct the new home for Illinois football, we have a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Dick's legacy.
“We hope that the Butkus statue will serve as a daily reminder to all those who enter the building of what it means to be a Fighting Illini."
As Butkus said, players have usually passed away by the time they are honored with a statue. It is a fantastic move by the University to do this for Butkus and his family while Butkus is still alive. Butkus, now aged 74, had this to say:
"I am very humbled about this, usually when you get a statue you are in the dirt, so this will be very different. I appreciate the tribute, but it is very humbling. I certainly didn't come to the University of Illinois to play football and have a statue made, but I need to acknowledge my teammates I played with back then. It was a good group and I think everybody had the same mentality when they came here to go to school. The program hadn't won in a long time and Pete Elliott's first class, we went to the Rose Bowl two years later, so that is special."
This move has been a long time coming for the University of Illinois. It should have been done a long time ago, but now is as good a time as any.
The Illinois Fighting Illini have the greatest player in college football history and the greatest defender in college football history. They will now both be honored in the manner they should.