Listen to this article

CHAMPAIGN — Underneath a tarp that protected him from a sprinkle of rain, Josh Whitman looked out at the crowd in front of him at the entrance of the Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Performance Center and marveled.

The hundreds in attendance, some of whom sat — or stood — behind barricades on Fourth Street, braved the wet and temperatures in the low 40s to witness the unveiling of the new statue of Dick Butkus.

“Wow, what an incredible scene,” the Illinois athletic director said.

“I wish you all had the chance to see what we have the chance to see sitting up here right now. We’re so happy, despite the weather, to have everybody here. I think it speaks to who Dick is to this university, to this community, certainly to this football program.”

Sculptor George Lundeen clutched onto one side of the tarp covering the statue, struggling to hold on in the wind even as one bronze hand was revealed.

Whitman joked that the first thing Butkus said to him when told of plans for the statue was that he didn’t want it because it separated him from his teammates. The legendary Illini linebacker told media before the unveiling that he didn’t make the process easy.

But as the statue was set to be revealed, the 76-year-old Butkus was highly complimentary of his likeness, which will grace the entrance of the Smith Center in perpetuity.

“I gotta tell you, this statue is the best, don’t you think?” he said. “I’ve got to say that sculptor George Lundeen did a magnificent job.”