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Dick Butkus: Illini failures embarrassing

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Updated: September 11, 2013 11:01PM



Fifty years ago this season, led by a linebacker by the name of Butkus, Illinois scored its last Rose Bowl victory: Illini 17, Washington 7 on Jan. 1, 1964.

For many of you, it must seem so long ago.

That game is distant in Dick Butkus’ memory, but he still feels connected with his teammates from that glorious season. Butkus refers to them all as “Pete’s boys,” after their head coach, Pete Elliott, who died in January.

“I think we have a bonding with our ’63 team, our Rose Bowl team,” Butkus said this week. “There’s a bond with those 60 players.”

Many of the members of that championship team will gather in Champaign the last weekend of September for a 50-year reunion. Butkus, meanwhile, is back in his old stomping grounds already.

No, not Champaign. The 70-year-old longtime Malibu, Calif., resident is back in Chicago, where he was born and raised.

And on Saturday, he’ll be back at Soldier Field, where he roamed for the final few seasons of his Hall of Fame career after the Bears’ move from Wrigley Field.

The Illini are playing a rare game in the city, against — how perfect is this? — Washington.

The Huskies (2-0) are ranked 25th in the country. The Illini (2-0) are off to a surprisingly good start but could be in for a long evening.

Butkus’ view of the state of the football program at his alma mater?

“I get kind of embarrassed with the way they’ve played,” he said.

Butkus says the biggest problem is the lack of a connection between Illinois football and recruits from the city.

“Chicago should be their purveyor of players. A lot of [recruits], when you tell them, ‘Come on down and visit Illinois,’ they say, ‘Nah, that’s OK, I don’t need to go down there. I’m going to go to a team that wins. I want to play in the NFL.’ ”

Butkus will host a luncheon on Thursday at Wildfire Chicago, with proceeds going to a University of Illinois athletic department scholarship fund as well as Butkus’ foundation and the ‘‘I Play Clean’’ program he runs with his son Matt. ‘‘I Play Clean’’ promotes awareness among high school athletes of the dangers of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SLGreenberg



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