NEW ORLEANS — Being a Butkus and playing football at Illinois is like an Armstrong playing the trumpet, a Hemingway writing novels or a Nureyev going into ballet.
Luke Butkus was a standout because of his name long before he became a standout because of his game. Nephew of Dick, son of Ron, cousin of Mark, Luke is the latest to help build the family name at the school.
"Every time a Butkus has been a senior, Illinois has won the Big Ten title," Illini assistant head coach Harry Hiestand said. "His Uncle Dick, his cousin Mark, and now him. So it's happened three times."
Luke will play his last game for the school Tuesday night when the No. 7 Illini face No. 12 LSU in the Sugar Bowl.
Uncle Dick went on to an eight-year career with the Chicago Bears, where the No. 51 and the man that wore it struck fear in opposing offenses. By the time he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, he had also made the name a standard for measuring football players' skill and toughness.
It's the kind of name that can be hard for a young player to live up to.