Illinois announced Thursday the establishment of a university athletics hall of fame, and who better than Dick Butkus to be the first inductee?
According to the announcement, Illinois has discussed creating an athletics hall of fame to honor past student-athletes for years, but this is the first time it's been acted upon — not necessarily a surprise now that Josh Whitman, a former Illinois football player, is now in charge of the department.
"The University of Illinois has an incredible and storied history in athletics," Whitman said in the announcement. "Legendary names in sports history are found throughout the Illini record books, and we are excited to honor them in our new Hall of Fame. Since the athletic program's inception in 1890, some of the world's greatest athletes have competed in the orange and blue. Ultimately, as we begin to populate the Hall of Fame, our collection of recognized greats will compare favorably with that of any institution in the nation."
Butkus, of course, is the obvious choice to be the first announced member of the hall of fame's inaugural class.
Regarded by many as the best linebacker and defensive football player ever, Butkus spent three seasons in Champaign, twice a unanimous All-American selection. Playing both center and linebacker at Illinois, he finished in the top six in Heisman Trophy voting in 1963 and 1964, a shocking accomplishment for someone playing a position other than quarterback, running back or receiver.
Butkus made 374 tackles in three seasons and is one of just two players — the other being Red Grange — to have his number retired at Illinois. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame (thanks to his remarkable career with the Bears), and the annual award for the best linebacker in college football is named after Butkus.
"The University of Illinois has played an extremely important role in my life," Butkus said in the announcement. "I have many life-long relationships that began at the U of I and have always been proud to call myself a Fighting Illini. To be recognized in the inaugural class of the Athletics Hall of Fame is a terrific feeling. I'm very proud of what my teams and I accomplished, including the 1963 Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl victory. Thank you for this honor."
The Illini will announce the entire inaugural class in February, with induction coming next September.