Illini Start Sports Hall Of Fame, Dick Butkus In 1st Class
The University of Illinois is forming the school's first Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame and a member of its first class will be former Chicago Bears great Dick Butkus. The school's athletic department made the announcement Thursday morning. The entire inaugural class will be announced in February and recognized at a dinner in Chicago next summer.
Butkus returned to campus Thursday, saying he’s humbled by the decision to be named the Hall’s first inaugural member.
“As an 18 year old, I had to make two of the biggest decisions of my life," he said. "That was to marry my high school sweetheart, and to attend the University of Illinois. It’s been six decades later, and I know I made the right decisions.”
Butkus, now 73, says the news caught him by surprise. He played on the Illini’s 1963 Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl teams. Butkus played linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1965 to 1973, including in eight Pro Bowls.
U of I Athletic Director Josh Whitman says around 1-thousand people meet the criteria for the new Hall of Fame, that would include coaches, athletes, and administrators. The names of those on the selection committee will not be announced.
There also will be an induction ceremony in Champaign-Urbana next September.
Butkus, who helped change the direction of a struggling Illini football team in the early 60's, says there’s a great value to learning from someone like Lovie Smith, who’s also coached pro football with the Bears and Tampa Bay. Butkus expects things to turn around for the 2-and-5 Illini.
“It’s a great feeling as an athlete to turn a program around," he said. "Rather than going through a perennial winner, and be just one of the guys, here’s a chance you can come and turn around a program, and a lot of times, and least around here, you won’t forget it. And it could be the start of something big. So you want to be part of it.”
The former Illini and Chicago Bear says Coach Smith has a quiet way about him, but tells it like it is with is players.