"At home on a football field." The Illinois legacy of Dick Butkus
A tribute to the greatest linebacker of them all, a Chicago kid who took over the football world by never leaving home. “Boy was he a fierce player," longtime Illini chronicler Loren Tate said.
I called Loren Tate on Friday morning, because who better to capture the legacy of Dick Butkus on the day after the greatest Illinois football player of them all had died?
I even eased my way into a question that way, just to be sure.
You’ve seen a lot of players come through that program …
“Oh, he’s the greatest,” the 91-year-old Tate said, cutting me off. “I mean, who’s second-best?”
Red Grange, maybe?
“Well, yeah, OK. I didn’t see Grange go through,” Tate said, laughing. “Jack Eberling, a Michigan State (radio) guy, called me yesterday and said, ‘How do you compare Grange and Butkus?’
“I said, Well how do you compare a soccer player with a baseball player? They didn’t play anywhere near the same position.”
Tate is a nonagenarian. He has been at this media business for 68 years and counting. He can still be heard five days a week on WDWS 1400 in Champaign, and he still writes his “Tatelines” column for the News-Gazette.
Of Butkus, he said matter-of-factly: “He was a beast. He was always that way. He always put a little something extra in his tackles.”
Tate grew up in nearby Monticello, went to his first Illinois football game in 1946, graduated from the place in 1953.
Two years in the Army, 11 years writing about sports in Hammond, Ind., then a return to Champaign in ’66, at a newspaper job he hasn’t left since.
The only thing he wasn’t on-hand for from start to finish?
Butkus’ Illinois career, from 1962-64.