But then I saw the news and knew I had to write about it…again. Death. Last week was the anniversary of my father passing away and I was able to unleash those emotions on paper in this blog. Well, death doesn’t take any days off and it comes back to hit you when you least expect it – especially as you get older.
Doug Buffone, Chicago Bears legend, passed away today at his home. He was 70 years old.
For those of you who know me really well, I am the definition of a diehard Bears fan. I literally used to have to skip dinner on Sunday nights because I was so wound up from the games that my stomach couldn’t handle eating. Yes, that is fanaticism. Luckily, I am past that stage of my life – if the Bears are going to make me mad then I will turn them off. But back then the Bears were everything. I realize that seems odd since my love is baseball. But baseball is 162 games and a long season. The NFL season is ONLY 16 games and every game is of absolute importance. This is the reason that the Bears get me more worked up more than any team I root for in this life.
My first memories of the Bears were in 1977. I was nine years old. The Bears hadn’t made the playoffs since they won the NFL Championship in 1963. It was Buffone’s 12th year as a Bear and he was still a starting outside linebacker. But my focus was on Walter Payton and the offense. He was running roughshod over the NFC and it was awesome. It was during this time that Walter became my sports hero; and the Bears became my team.
It was also a special time for me as a son. Sunday afternoons were the time my Dad and I had a special bond. My father loved Gale Sayers and the Bears and it didn’t take long for his youngest son to have a beloved RB and NFL team. My brother somehow became a Los Angeles Rams fan, so I got alone time with my Dad watching the Bears. It brings back great memories. I’ll never forget how difficult it was when Walter Payton passed away in 1999. It wasn’t so much that my childhood hero died, but that I was 31 years old and BOTH my childhood heroes had passed on. My Dad always pointed out the intricacies of Walter’s game – how he “never died easy” and wouldn’t go out of bounds, how he would just hand the ball to the referee after he scored a TD – my father made sure I watched and learned how he played the game. The passion I have for the Chicago Bears was planted back in those years and it continued to grow each year.
When I was 12 or 13 I received the best Christmas present ever. It was Richard Whittingham’s book on the history of the Chicago Bears. I had it read at least twice by New Year’s Eve. I learned about many fantastic Bears players that I had not been able to see play. One of those players was Doug Buffone. At the time, he was the record holder for the most games played in Bears history at 186 games (since surpassed by four other players including Payton). That was important to me. Being a budding stat-head I took note that he had played the most games in Bears history and understood this meant he was a great player for a long time.
Time went by and I watched the legacy of Bears linebackers continue to grow. Singletary, Wilson, Marshall, Urlacher, and Briggs – all fantastic linebackers in the great lineage of Chicago defensemen. Two of those players wore the same number as Buffone, #55. It didn’t really sink in, especially since it took the Bears organization 21 years to retire Hall of Famer Dick Butkus’ number 51. I imagine many of us Bears fans felt the same way about the number situation.
All of the aforementioned builds up to the main reason I am so heartbroken today. After Buffone retired he went into broadcasting (among other activities) and we were fortunate enough to be able to continue our love affair with this lifetime Bears great. If I was anywhere near a radio after a Bears game I needed to dial in 670 The Score to listen to Doug and O.B. (Ed O’Bradovich). For the first time in my life a media personality showed the emotion on the air that I felt in watching the game. The love of the Chicago Bears bonded us together and for Buffone to wear his emotions on his sleeves so naturally we fell in love with him even more. He was OUR voice, saying the things we didn't have the platform to say. He was one of us, yet he wasn’t. He had played the game, however he was still a fan, a diehard fan. At that endeared him to us all the more.
I’m sure most of you can name a color commentator or analyst for your favorite team that used to play for said team. But they broke the mold when they made Doug Buffone. Listening to the stories this afternoon on The Score about the man he was, more so than the player he was, made me laugh, contemplate, reminisce and cry all at the same time. It’s times like these when I get to relive special moments in my life with my Dad. And I hope I’m creating those same memories for my sons.
Thank you Doug. Rest in peace 55.