Dick Butkus was a Hall of Fame linebacker for both the Illini and Bears. He's one of many connections in the storied histories of the two teams.
Sept. 12, 2013
The tradition-rich relationship between the University of Illinois and the Chicago Bears comes together again as the Fighting Illini host "Chicago Homecoming" at Soldier Field on Saturday (5 p.m. CT on BTN).
The UI and Bears have a long-standing tradition dating back to the original Decatur Staleys, who were founded by University of Illinois alumni George Halas and Dutch Sternaman. The team's colors, orange and blue, came from Halas' days as an Illini. And Illinois' two most famous players, Red Grange and Dick Butkus, earned NFL Hall of Fame status as players for the Bears.
In fact, it was Grange, fresh off an All-America career at Illinois, who is credited with pushing the NFL into the national spotlight with a barnstorming tour with Halas following his last season for the Fighting Illini in 1925. Grange, regarded by many as the greatest player in college football history, has a 12-foot statue of his likeness outside the Great West Hall of Memorial Stadium.
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS - CHICAGO BEAR CONNECTIONS
Orange & Blue: The Chicago Bears team colors have always been orange and blue, after those of the University of Illinois, the alma mater of founder George "Papa Bear" Halas.
Dick Butkus: The greatest linebacker in the history of the game. Butkus joined the Bears as a first-round draft pick in 1965 after an All-American career at Illinois. Butkus went on to earn All-Pro honors seven times and is a member of the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame. Jersey number 50 retired at Illinois, 51 retired by the Bears. Bears Hall of Fame member. Award for nation's top collegiate linebacker named for him.
J.C. Caroline: Former Illini All-American halfback and coach, played for Bears from 1956-65.
Red Grange: Illinois All-American was first major signing by Halas and the fledgling National Football League. Halas took Grange and the Bears on a coast-to-coast barnstorming tour in which the club played 16 games in nine weeks. The tour is generally credited with saving the professional game and putting the NFL on the national sports map. Grange is a charter member of the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame. Jersey number 77 retired at Illinois and by the Bears. Also coached for the Bears for eight seasons from 1933-40. Bears Hall of Fame member.
George Halas: Chicago Bears founder, player and long-time coach, earned a bachelor's degree at Illinois in 1918 while lettering in football, basketball and baseball. A charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Bears Hall of Fame member, Halas selected orange and blue as the team's colors as a nod to his alma mater. Halas passed away in October 1983 and, starting in 1984, the Bears added the initials GSH to the left sleeve of their jerseys in honor of the late "Papa Bear." The Bears uniforms still don the initials to this day.
Kurt Kittner: Illinois All-American and Fighting Illini Radio Network color analyst played for the Bears in 2005.
Ron Turner: Former Illinois head coach (1997-2004) was the offensive coordinator for the Bears from 1993-96 before taking the head job in Champaign. Then, after his tenure at Illinois ended, he returned to the Windy City as the Bears offensive coordinator from 2005-09, helping the Bears reach the 2006 Super Bowl.
1946 and 1963: The Fighting Illini and Bears both won respective Big Ten (and Rose Bowl) and NFL Championships in the same seasons.
1985: The Chicago Bears spent a week in Champaign-Urbana practicing for Super Bowl XX. The Bears used the Memorial Stadium "bubble" to prepare for the New England Patriots, whom the Bears defeated 46-10 in New Orleans.
1994: Illinois opened the 1994 season at Soldier Field with a 10-9 loss to Washington State on Sept. 1. Simeon Rice set an Illini single-game record with five quarterback sacks.
2002: The Chicago Bears played all of their home games (eight regular season and two exhibition games) at Memorial Stadium on the University Illinois campus during the 2002 season while Soldier Field was being renovated.
2003: The Bears played their two home preseason games at Memorial Stadium while the finishing touches were put on the Soldier Field renovation. The Bears moved back into Soldier Field for the 2003 regular season.
Exhibition Games: Memorial Stadium hosted two Chicago Bears exhibition games in the mid-1970s. On Aug. 3, 1974, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Bears, 10-7, and on Aug. 23, 1975, the Bears defeated the Cardinals, 14-13.
Memorial Stadium: The University of Illinois Memorial Stadium was the ninth stadium in which the Bears played home games following Wrigley Field (330 games), Soldier Field (240 games), Decatur (one game in 1921), DePaul (one game in 1925), Mills (one game in 1930), Loyola (one game in 1931), Chicago Stadium (one game in 1932) and Dyche Stadium at Northwestern (1 game in 1970). The Chicago architecture firm of Holabird & Roche built Memorial Stadium, as well as Soldier Field, also named in honor of those killed in World War I.
Former Illini on All-Time Bears Roster (51 players)
Atkins, Kelvin, 1983
Boso, Cap, 1987-91
Britton, Earl, 1925
Brown, Bill, 1961
Burdick, Lloyd, 1931-32
Butkus, Dick, 1965-73
Caroline, J.C., 1956-65
Crawford, James "Mush", 1925
Davis, Jason, 2008
Gordon, Lou, 1938
Grabowski, Jim, 1971
Grange, Garland, 1929-31
Grange, Red, 1925, 1929-34
Halas, George, 1920-29
Harris, Antoineo, 2005