1963 - Dick Butkus Home
Hall of Fame Chicago Bear Linebacker
In the summer of 1962 I went to work for Cullinan Construction in Tremont, Illinois, a small town about 15 miles southeast of Pekin. Mr Cullinan was a member at the Pekin Country Club and helped many young athletes in the area get summer jobs at his company. His son Steve had been on the PCHS basketball team with me.
While I was working there I worked with a high school all-American football player who had graduated from Richwood High School a couple years earlier and was now a guard on the U of Ill football team. His name was Bob Easter and he was a huge strong man who was a guard on the offensive line for the U of Illinois. He probably knew of me as I had been the starting guard on the basketball team at Pekin and one of the best young golfers in the area as I had only lost one match my senior year and defeated the future state champ from Galesburg (Joff Eyre)when I shot 31-37 at Parkview, the local course (par 70).
Richwood and Pekin had a strong rivalry and I think Bob was determined to work me into the ground. One day he and I had to fill a flatbed truck with curb and gutter forms that must have weighed 80 lbs each. We had to swing them to get enough momentum to heave them up onto the flatbed. Bob tried to work me into the ground but I kept pace and earned his respect. He couldn't believe that a little guy like me could keep up with him.
When I got to the U of Ill that fall I was assigned to a roommate I didn't know and my mom wrote a letter to the school and was able to get them to room me with another acquaintance from Pekin, Bruce Gustafson, who also knew Bob Easter. Bruce was a good golfer and basketball player himself and graduated a couple years before me. We had a lot in common as far as sports. We were both big college football fans and attended all the home games and even went to a couple of away games the first year. Pete Elliott was the coach that year.
One of those games was the Purdue game. Bruce and I and a couple other friends from our dorm traveled to West Lafayette in the fall of 62 to attend that game. The Illini had lost 15 in a row and Purdue was heavily favored. Their quarterback was Bob Griese and it was their homecoming game. We were just about the only Illinois fans there. Surprisingly Illinois was leading something like 14-10 with a couple of minutes left and Purdue was driving toward the goal. Miracously the Illini's defense stopped them near the goal line and won the game. We were ecstatic and Bruce, because of our acquaintance with Bob Easter was able to get us into the locker room after the game to celebrate with the team. As we traveled back to Champaign-Urbana after the game we heard on the radio that students had poured out of the dorms and formed a parade downtown to the bars where there was a massive celebration going on. When we got back we headed down to the infamous downtown bar (Kam's) to join the celebration and partied that night.
In the spring of 63 Bruce told me that we were invited over to Bob Easter's apartment to watch the finals of the NCAA basketball game between Cincinnati and Loyola with Bob's wife and Dick Butkus. I was familiar with Cincinnati basketball and Oscar Robertson as I was a Bradley fan and they were in the Missouri Valley Conference with Cincinnati and constantly finishing behind them. When we arrived Dick was already ensconced in a chair with a beer in his hand and we were introduced.
It didn't seem to me that the Big Ten played defense as aggressively as they did in the Missouri Valley. At PCHS our coach Dawdy Hawkins had taught good defense and we pressed full court the whole game and were able to win 18 games my last year (1962) with limited talent. Dawdy would later go on to win State titles in 64 and 67 and dominate the state from 64 through 68.
Dick didn't say much that night as he was busy making Auggie Busch a rich man, but I could tell he was a big college basketball fan. I made the point that I didn't think the Big Ten played defense like they did in the Missouri Valley Conference. Loyola upset Cincinnati and Oscar Robinson in overtime that night, which was a little disappointing for me. Loyola was the first NCAA winner using all black starters. The next year the Illini football team would win the Big Ten and go on to beat Washington at the Rose Bowl with Dick leading their tenacious defense.
A few weeks after that I was in Huff gym on Saturday shooting baskets when I noticed Dave Downey, the star starting guard on the U of Ill basketball team and Dick Butkus and some other varsity football and basketball players trying to get up a five on five half court game on the basket next to me. Dick recognized me and asked me if I wanted to play. Of course I said yes and we chose up sides.
Dave and Dick were on the opposing team. I had been making everything I threw up in my practice so I was feeling pretty confident. I decided there were two ways I could attack this opportunity. I could play as I did in high school where I played good defense and didn't shoot a lot and ran the offense and set up other players for shots. I'm sure that's what they expected of me as I should have felt a little intimidated playing with them.
The only problem with that was that they weren't used to people playing aggressive defense in the Big Ten, let alone in a pick up game; so that would have probably have made me unpopular and I didn't want to push it. Being aggressive on offense was more accepted and wouldn't make me unpopular as long as I didn't miss too many shots. Since I was feeling confident, I decided to pursue the aggressive offensive tactic.
In high school I was a little frustrated that the coach always wanted me to feed our star center, Gene Williams, who was the most prolific scorer in PCHS history to that point, so that I didn't get a chance to shoot very much. Years of frustration were about to be expressed as I brought the ball in for our team and didn't even pass it. I just took two dribbles and put up a 22 footer - "swish". I heard Dave and some others exclaim "whoa!" and the game was on. Almost every time I got the ball I put up a shot and I don't remember missing any. Finally after one of my shots Dave exclaimed "Damn - He's got a funny looking shot, but he never misses!" That made my day. I think they eventually beat us but we gave them all they bargained for. There was no way Dave was going to let us win. I mean he still holds the record for most points scored in a single game at the U of Ill (53 points).
That fall Dick would lead the Illini to the big ten and Rose Bowl championships and later become famous as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears. Also the Pekin Chinks would win the state basketball title in the spring of 64.