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Heartbreaking loss: Bears football won’t be the same without Doug Buffone

Besides playing in a then-franchise record 186 games for the Bears over 14 seasons and becoming one of the most beloved radio personalities in Chicago, the late, great Doug Buffone also once had one of the best weeks anybody can have picking NFL games.

In 2013, as a panelist on the Cheat Sheet in the Sun-Times, Doug went 12-1-1 against the spread in Week 12 — a phenomenal record in a year when even the wisest of wise guys was struggling to pick winners.

And here’s the kicker: It was Doug’s loyalty to the Bears that cost him an unbeaten week. His only mistake was picking his beloved Bears as a one-point underdog to the Rams. The Bears lost 41-21. (Even the tie was a fluke — if not for a line change after the picks were published, Doug would have won that one, too).

“I was hesitating on that [Bears-Rams] game. I really was,” Doug explained when I asked him what went wrong. “But I said, ‘I can’t do that.’ I can’t go against the Bears. Because then the game comes on [the television] and I’m like everyone else — I want to be right. That means I’d have to be cheering against the Bears.”

And as we all know, that is something Doug just could not do. He was a great Bear who was an even greater ex-Bear — a guy who enjoyed being a Bears fan as much as he loved being a Bears player. And it showed every time he was on the air or in public — more so after losses than victories of course. But that’s all part of being a passionate Bears fan.

But that was Doug Buffone. He was passionate about everything in his life, from football to family to friendships to business ventures to his radio shows — and even the Cheat Sheet.

For seven years, Doug participated in the Sun-Times’ weekly feature picking NFL games against the spread. Though he was the “celebrity” panelist, he took the responsibility more seriously than anybody who’s ever been on the panel. He did his homework. He hemmed-and-hawed. He talked things out — and changed his mind. And he never, ever took a week off. When Doug would take his annual hunting trip to Pennsylvania, he’d call from out of town to get his picks.

And the best part of all was that Doug always called in his picks on the phone. He didn’t have an e-mail address. So every week of the football season, Doug would call with his picks. During more Bears seasons than not, it would be the highlight of my week. Because Doug would not only analyze each game in his own entertaining fashion, but inevitably just talk football — about playing next to Dick Butkus (“I’d look over at him, he was foaming at the mouth and I’d say, ‘I’m just glad he’s on my side.’’’); or failing to win a game for Brian Piccolo when he was battling cancer (“We go to the hospital and Brian said, ‘Where’s the win? Can’t you guys do anything right?’’’); or passing out with a 103-degree fever in the 47-0 loss to the Houston Oilers in 1977 that preceded a glorious run to the Bears’ first playoff birth since 1963 (“I went out there for no more than three or four plays and I was out cold. They thought I had Legionnaire’s Disease.”)

After Doug’s sudden death at 70 in April, those conversations are great memories. Now more than ever, I cherish every one of them. Life goes on, of course — Mike North, a Chicago radio legend himself and longtime friend of Doug’s, will re-join the Cheat Sheet this season. Chet Coppock’s book, “Doug Buffone: Monster of the Midway — My 50 years with the Chicago Bears” is Doug’s own fitting tribute to his wonderful life. And even though Doug won’t be participating on the panel, one thing he told me every single week will stay with me forever:

“I’ll take the Bears.”