Friday, April 24, 2015

Robin takes his leave

You can sit this one out today, those of you who are not of a certain age. The Blob knows how you hate all that back-in-the-day noise, all those sentences and paragraphs that never seem to get out of the rocking chair.

So, you are excused. Doug Buffone has died, and we're gonna talk about it some.

If you grew up in northern Indiana when NFL Sundays were the Bears in the early game and the Rams and/or 49ers in the late game, you knew who Buffone was. He was Robin to Dick Butkus' Batman. He was 55 to Butkus' 51. He was the Other Linebacker --  a tag that was accurate but also unfair, because Buffone lasted longer and put up numbers that, had he not lined up next to one of the greatest linebackers in history, would be far enduring than they seem to be now.

Consider: Buffone played 14 years, the second most in Bears history. In half those seasons, he had more than 100 tackles. He also had 24 interceptions, still the most in club history, and 37 sacks.

If he wasn't Mr. Bear -- after his playing days, he became notorious for his passionate rants about the team as a broadcaster -- he was at least Mr. Bear for a particular era. It was an era we wanted to forget at the time, but, almost 50 years along, it retains a curious attraction that never quite fades.

The Blob has had big fun over the years at the expense of Jack Concannon, the Bears quarterback during that particularly beige period in the late '60s. But I would kill to have a Concannon jersey now, no matter how many times he threw the football into Lake Michigan on third-and-long. Ditto a Larry Rakestraw jersey, Rakestraw being Concannon's equally ineffective backup. Ditto, of course, a Buffone jersey, an Ed O'Bradovich jersey, maybe even a Ralph Kurek jersey for fans of highly obscure running backs -- which, in that era, was pretty much every running back the Bears had who wasn't named Gale Sayers or Brian Piccolo.

And we all know why we remember Piccolo.

At any rate, they were all pieces of Bears teams that were unrelentingly awful, and yet strangely watchable. You watched, in those days, to see Sayers make moves you'd never seen a running back make before. You watched to see if this was the week Butkus literally detached someone's head from their shoulders. You watched to see Buffone clean up whatever messes Butkus couldn't ... or to see Kurek or Ronnie Bull run for two yards off-tackle ... or to see Dick Gordon haul in a pass, stunning those of us who didn't think Concannon could throw it that far.

Then, of course, Mac Percival would come on to kick a field goal. Or the Bears would get penalized for some dumb thing, and Bobby Joe Green would have to come on to punt for the 50th time that afternoon.

No matter. The Bears were the NFL, if you were of that certain age and lived where we lived. Watching Butkus chase Fran Tarkenton all over Cook County or Ray Nitschke and the Packers keep Sayers semi-contained made fans of us. And if we didn't realize then that that made us part of the NFL's coming of age, we certainly realize it now.

So go to your rest, 55. And thanks for the memories. 

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