I’m not going to con you. I’m not going to offer up a smarmy line that I just never thought this remarkable man would beat the odds and live till he was at least 94. The game, Doug’s game, isn’t played that way. Twenty two years of competitive football, prep-college-the big-league, doesn’t suggest a trip to Key West to celebrate a 93rd birthday.
It’s been several months now since Doug Buffone, the most underrated linebacker in NFL history, left us for a presumed meeting with his Maker along with idle chit chat with his old boss George Stanley Halas.
This isn’t really meant to be a tribute to a gridiron warrior who played 14 stellar seasons in the Halas colors after a tenure at Louisville where Doug, a dirt poor kid from the Western Pennsylvania mining region, became a second team All-American during his senior year.
Selfishly, it’s really about me. Doug and I didn’t meet a month ago. Hell, I saw him play his first home game with the Bears at Wrigley Field way back in 1966. By 1970, our acquaintance had been established. By 1975, this handsome guy with jet black hair, four years my senior, was a friend.
Doug is gone. For 15 months, Buff and I met about two or three times a week to craft his book, “Buffone: Monster of the Midway.”
I want the laughter we shared as we joked out loud about the eccentricities of Abe Gibron, Jim Dooley, big Doug Atkins, O’B, Sweetness Payton and Daniel Oliver Hampton.
Invariably, our meetings took place on the lower level of the stylish home he shared with his wife Dana and his children. During our gab sessions, Buff never ventured up the stairs to the second floor. Not once. I soon came to realize why. Too many years, too many collisions, too many ballgames played in conditions better suited to Siberia had robbed this football icon of his leg strength.
Jeez, I miss those laughter-driven sessions. Mind you, way back in the early 70’s Doug Buffone, NFL jock and restaurant operator, was a full-blown hero to me. He was a Chicago Bear, he was cool, he was the magnet that made him an A-list guest who could insure the success of any gathering from Hammond to Racine.
Doug, I still cry. I don’t know how much longer this will continue. I can laugh at the times your memory would slip because 15 seconds later you’d toss me a line that would send us on a journey to the days when you manned the “Sam” linebacker spot with such power, grace and passion.
I cherish what we shared. This may sound trite, but I think we brought out the best in each other.
Christ, it only took me ten years and 10,000 efforts to get you to finally hone in on covering this project.
The stories you spun still resonate within me. I want to look over and see my buddy in his trademark sweats with his faded old Chicago Bears cap, a cap that you cherished.
SCORE listeners knew when you busted the Bears spleens after a lousy ballgame that you were really a father figure expressing keen personal hurt that the club you loved had just played 60 minutes with the power and drive of Pee Wee Herman.
You were, and always will be, a Chicago Bear. A titan who tag-teamed with Dick Butkus. A guy who wore #55 with pride long before the arrival of the charismatic Otis Wilson and the brutally tough Lance Briggs.
Doug, maybe, just maybe you weren’t supposed to pass. We had a book tour to work on together. We had far too many laughs yet to be brought to the table. I need to see your blood boil just one more time as you discuss the failings of the comedy team of Emery and Trestman.
Doug, you were a character, a football man, but primarily a pal. I assume my personal hurt will eventually dissipate. As they say in the trade, “life goes on.”
Yet, sometimes my moments of sadness end with bursts of laughter as I think about you and I, giggling like school kids, swapping stories.
This may sound cruel but, in some respects, I don’t want the sadness to close. Why? Because my personal dilemma remains an iron-clad reminder of just how much I loved spending so damn much time with you during your final season on earth.
Doug, thanks for the memories. Memories that shall always be cherished. I had the time of my life….
You know, we never did get around to talking about that cruise we took back in 1990, through the Caribbean, when you and I set world records for eating pizza after 11:00 at night. We sure as hell should have rapped about that night when our boat hit rough water and about 900 people, in the name of common sense, bypassed dinner to stay in the comfort of their suites.
You and I had other ideas. We both churned through two 12 ounce sirloin steaks before devouring Baked Alaskas. That was the warm up. Twenty minutes later, after our dinner for 15, we were munching popcorn in the ship’s movie theater. The pizza just had to wait. After all, pepperoni has its place. Did we really give a damn that the ship felt like it might be ready to capsize?
So, long my dear friend. You’d be honored to know just how poised your family members displayed during the aftermath of your demise. Your twin daughters brought down the house with their tributes at your memorial at old St Pat’s. They are truly Buffones.
Doug, so many people miss you, so many people still gleam at the mere mention of your name.
I simply smile and remind myself how fortunate I was to know the country kid from Yatesboro, the son of Sam Yates Buffone and his bride Adeline.
Pal, you are to be treasured. You were an original. I was blessed to enter your world. Our last year gave my life new meaning, a new sense of vigor about what really matters.
Goodbye, Buff. Use your clout. See if you can slide me in the back door when my time comes.