CHAMPAIGN, IL – University of Illinois alumni Red Grange and Dick Butkus are considered as two of the greatest players in college and pro football history. Grange is already memorialized with a grand statue on the west side of Memorial Stadium, now, Butkus, the man many consider the greatest linebacker in football history, will be forever recognized with his own statue overlooking the entrance to a newly constructed football performance center.
“Dick Butkus is the greatest defensive player in the history of football, and he embodies the identity of the Illinois football program,” Director of Athletics Josh Whitman said. “His toughness was legendary. His competitiveness was unparalleled. And, his Illini pride is without peer. As we construct the new home for Illinois football, we have a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Dick’s legacy. We hope that the Butkus statue will serve as a daily reminder to all those who enter the building of what it means to be a Fighting Illini.”
Renowned artist and UI alum George Lundeen will produce a bronze statue of Butkus that will be placed near the entrance of the new football performance center expected to be completed in time for the 2019 football season.
“I am very humbled about this,” Butkus said. “Usually when you get a statue you are in the dirt, so this will be very different. I appreciate the tribute, but it is very humbling. I certainly didn’t come to the University of Illinois to play football and have a statue made, but I need to acknowledge my teammates I played with back then. It was a good group and I think everybody had the same mentality when they came here to go to school. The program hadn’t won in a long time and Pete Elliott’s first class, we went to the Rose Bowl two years later, so that is special.”
Lundeen is also the artist behind the acclaimed Red Grange statue that stands on the west side of Memorial Stadium.
“When you follow a career like Dick Butkus and you have gone to the University of Illinois, he is one of the icons,” Lundeen said. “Much like Red Grange, but he is a modern-day icon, so when you hear his name, you not only think of Rocky’s dog, but you think of the greatest linebacker who ever played the game.
“When starting a project like this on Dick Butkus, you have to try and figure out what you can do that is going to be sitting there in a very solid state, not moving, yet make it move and make this piece as dynamic as possible. What you strive for and what you want a piece like this sculpture to stand for is not only the person that you are working with in the monument, but also the ideas behind it and the idea that this guy not only was a great athlete, but a great teammate.”