CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — The long-anticipated unveiling of the larger-than-life statue of legendary Fighting Illini linebacker, Dick Butkus, was unveiled on a rainy Friday outside the main entrance of the Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Center.
Guests in attendance heard from University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones, Director of Athletics Josh Whitman, Matt and Sara Joyce, and the man of honor, Dick Butkus.
Joyce, both UI graduates, generously donated to create the Butkus statue.
“It’s a very humbling experience to tell you the truth,” Butkus said. “I didn’t come here to play to get a statue. We changed a losing program to a winner and it’s all you can ask. It worked out well.”
Butkus is regarded by many as the greatest linebacker and one of the most intimidating players in football history.
Butkus played center on offense and linebacker on defense for Coach Pete Elliott, leading the Illini to the 1963 Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl victory over Washington.
He is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, as well as the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame. Butkus was two-time consensus All-American, three-time All-Big Ten, and the 1963 Silver Football Award winner.
He finished third in the 1964 Heisman Trophy balloting and went on to a nine-year Hall of Fame career with the NFL’s Chicago Bears.
Butkus’ Illinois jersey, No. 50, was retired in 1986 and he was named to the Walter Camp Foundation All-Century team in 1989. The nation’s top linebacker receives the “Butkus Award” each season.
The statue was produced by acclaimed artist, and UI alum, George Lundeen, at his studio in Colorado. Lundeen also created the Red Grange statue that stands guard on the west side of Memorial Stadium, as well as the awards presented to each inductee into the University of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame.
Butkus Statue Facts:
- 12-feet tall; 1,000 pounds
- Made of bronze with a stainless steel structure sporting the piece from inside the sculpture
- The Butkus Statue was sculpted in about six months, however, the entire process (clay to patina) has taken about one year
- Mr. Lundeen visited Dick Butkus in person for the sculpture research, along with purchasing pads, helmet, and jerseys from that football era. When visiting with Butkus, Lundeen had photos of Dick Butkus playing football in the 1960s. He asked Dick what face he’d like to use to sculpt the piece. Dick said, “how ’bout this?” and made a clenched face expression. George snapped a photo and that’s the face you now see on the sculpture