Dougie, Dougie, Dougie.
That’s what people always called Doug Buffone, after they knew him a little while and found out what a nice guy he was.
Of course, he wasn’t a softie. You don’t lead your college team (Louisville) in tackles three consecutive years, then play linebacker for 14 years for the Bears without being rough and tough.
But Buffone, who died suddenly Monday at 70, had a certain kind of tenderness to him that was unusual and, notably, unexpected.
“I have never heard a single person say they didn’t like him,’’ said Mike Mulligan, the WSCR-AM (670) radio host who worked with Buffone for years. “I’ve never heard anybody say anything bad about him at all. He was just a wonderful man.’’
We say that about a lot of folks after they die. But with Buffone, it was so very true in life.
For eight years, he played alongside the greatest middle linebacker the game has ever seen, Dick Butkus, and he no doubt learned much about the, ahem, craft of destroying ballcarriers. Yet he never came off as a brute or a goon or a self-centered jock. He was team all the way.
“People say, well, he would’ve been All-Pro if it wasn’t for me,’’ Butkus said Monday. “And I was like, ‘Well, whatever.’ But he did the job for us, and I think that’s all he was concerned about.’’
Indeed, it was.
I worked with Dougie as a co-host on my radio show several years back on WSCR, first with Jonathan Hood and later with Mulligan. The only times Buffone mentioned his football career were to make a valid point about something in modern ball or to tell a funny, self-deprecating story about himself or about some R-rated conversation at the bottom of a pile.
And here’s the other thing anyone who worked with him will tell you: The guy always was prepared.
He didn’t just show up for one of our 4½-hour shows ready to wing it; he came into the studio armed with stats and ideas and analyses written out on pages of legal pad. He’d put his head down and come up with fact-based concepts that were the result of cold, hard research.
I had watched him play on TV for the Bears back in the day, and I realized this must have been his style in the NFL, too — total preparation.
He was a great pal to shoot the breeze with, and his humor was infectious. One time I made a comment on the air about a White Sox player with a knee problem and how maybe he’d be forced to wear a heavy brace on his knee for games, and Dougie went off.
He thought that was hilarious and brought up the image of a player with a peg leg trying to run the bases. Next, he came up with the idea of a pirate with a parrot on his shoulder, somebody like Blackbeard or Captain Hook, and, God almighty, he and Mulligan couldn’t stop laughing.
I was offended that they didn’t take my statement with the severe import it deserved, but they were off to the races. It was like kids in church being told that they had to be silent, then one of them belches loudly.
Another time I got the harebrained idea to have us sing a parody song, take Dion’s “Runaround Sue’’ and make it about Barry Bonds’ gigantic, allegedly growth-hormone-induced head.
I played guitar and instead of singing, “Hep, hep, whoa-oh-oh, hep, hep,’’ we (including producer Andy Garcia and others) sang, “Head, head, whoa-oh, my head, head . . .’’
It was juvenile and fun and for an instrumental lead, Dougie played the kazoo.
Here’s something else. He was a hell of a basketball player. I played with him, and he was quick, strong and graceful and could leap. I’m sure those skills helped him leave the Bears as the all-time leader for linebackers in interceptions.
He packed a lot of things into his life, active to the end. Are there any of us who won’t remember the passion in the air when he and Ed O’Bradovich dissected Bears games on nighttime WSCR?
“Dammit, Dougie!’’ OB would scream. “They gotta do somethin’ about that defense!’’
And Buffone would agree, or disagree, his tone rising to express his outrage over some failure or other.
But the love in his voice was always there, too.
Because, in the end, he was just a good soul.