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Few athletes become as synonymous with their town as Doug Buffone was with Chicago. Though he came from the hard hills of Pennsylvania, he came to embody everything Chicagoans love.
Doug was taken too young, passing away suddenly on April 20, 2015, shortly after finishing this book with famed sportscaster Chet Coppock. Doug’s was a life well-lived—he was tough enough for Papa Bear George Halas and never afraid to speak his mind. Doug Buffone lived life his way and pulled no punches.
He grew up in Yatesboro, Pennsylvania, and found his way to the Chicago Bears by way of the Louisville Cardinals. And even though he played with Hall of Famers like Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, Doug never experienced championships as he battled through the brutal NFL of the 1970s. But in many ways it was after his career that Doug achieved greatness, because that’s when the radio introduced us to the fiery, hilarious “Uncle Doug” that we all came to love.
He felt each Bears win and loss with to-the-bone passion. He lived his life fully and in his book you will find unbelievable stories of celebrities and superstars, of fights and camaraderie and crazy nights, of a man who lived his life his way.
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About the Author
Doug Buffone, a former All American linebacker at Louisville, played 14 stellar seasons for the Chicago Bears after rejecting a larger contract offer from the San Diego Chargers of the American Football League. Buffone earned the respect and reverence of the NFL’s toughest critic, Papa Bear George Halas. Doug’s success went far beyond the gridiron. He had interest in numerous restaurants over the years, most notably, Gibson’s on Rush Street in Chicago. Doug was with radio station WSCR for over two decades. His Sunday show following Bears games with his longtime teammate, Ed O’Bradovich, was nothing if not “appointment radio.” Chet Coppock is an Emmy Award winning sportscaster who was inducted into the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame in 2014 while receiving the Jack Brickhouse Lifetime Achievement Award. Coppock, a sought-after speaker and commercial announcer, has hosted Notre Dame Football on WLS Radio for the past decade. He also hosts the Chicago Blackhawks “Heritage Series.” Coppock has authored two previous books, Fat Guys Shouldn’t Be Dancin’ at Halftime and Chet Coppock: Laying It on the Line.
Read an Excerpt
Doug Buffone: Monster of the Midway
My 50 Years with the Chicago Bears as Told to Chet Coppock
By Doug Buffone, Chet Coppock
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2015 Doug Buffone and Chet Coppock
All rights reserved.
Yatesboro ... Raised in a Mining Town
You load 16 tons what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter don't ya call me 'cause I can't go.
I owe my soul to the company store.
— Tennessee Ernie Ford "Sixteen Tons"
CHET COPPOCK: Were so many people that naïve?
When Ford released his chartbuster in 1955, some people saw it as a happy-go-lucky tune about life in the mills. In reality, Ford, blessed with a magnificently rich baritone, was shedding musical tears for the plight of those people who seemed, at birth, to be glued forever to the physical and mental anguish of life in the mines.
Nothing else, just the mines and family and, maybe, religion.
Samuel Fred Buffone, Doug's father, could relate to Ernie Ford's mournful lyrics. No one had to tell him about black lung or the ever-present danger of working in a coal mine.
Sam began working the mines when he was in the sixth grade.
The job carried a big slice of heartbreak. Samuel lost a brother one day when the mine collapsed on him. The company paid for his brother's funeral.
Always the company and yes, Sam Buffone and his family always shopped at the aforementioned company store.
Damn near everybody in Yatesboro, Pennsylvania, struggled through life toting their lunch pails to and from the mine. It was the only existence most of the local folks really knew.
You were born. You worked the mine. And you died.
That's just the way it was.
Sam Buffone was lucky.
After 30-plus years of grime, unbearable heat, and bone-jarring cold, along with aches that never took a day off, he got a job as a local cop.
However, he had trouble adjusting to his new career.
Doug will tell you that his father's rough-edged approach to life didn't really make him a fit for police blue. Samuel had his own kind of discipline.
With Sam, it wasn't necessarily, "We serve and protect." It was more like, "Don't screw around with me."
This was a very intense guy who was looking to imbue his hard-nosed way of life into his children.
Enter Douglas John Buffone.
DOUG BUFFONE: I don't think my dad ever made more than $6,000 a year. He was a tough man. He had forearms like Popeye and a voice like Dean Martin.
We did all our shopping at the company store and we lived in a company home. Our whole life revolved around the company. Damn near everybody's did. Really, it was all we knew.
I didn't have an expensive meal at a first-class restaurant until I went to Louisville to play football.
Our house didn't have any indoor plumbing. I bought a new house ... with plumbing, with my rookie signing bonus ($20,000) from the Bears.
Now, think about this. I was raised in the late '40s and early '50s and we had an outhouse. That's why I loved to play football, basketball, and baseball during high school. It meant I could actually take a shower every day.
It also meant that during the winters, I had to go out and shovel coal to keep the rest of the family warm. There were seven kids and we lived in a four-room house made up of two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room.
Once a month, sewage guys would come along with a giant hose and retrieve the waste from the outhouse into a truck. They were called honey dippers. It was really country. I guess maybe 500 people lived in our town.
The area was a melting pot. We had Italians, Germans, Poles, and Irish. We were all poor. We used to call wealthy guys "cake eaters," families that were so rich that they "could have their cake and eat it, too."
We didn't hate them, but we sure as hell resented them.
I can remember when I was real young, I wandered over to a cake eater's house and this old man screamed at me, "Get off my lawn, you goddamn Dago."
Jeez, I didn't know what the word meant. So, I went home and asked my Pop, "What's a Dago?"
I really can't remember what dad said to me, but I'll never forget this. The old man went over to the guy who called me a Dago and just beat the living shit out of him.
Dad used to work out on a speed bag. The cake eater never knew what hit him.
Dad was a really nice guy, but everyone knew: "Don't piss him off."
COPPOCK: You were a pretty good athlete, too.
BUFFONE: Yeah, I played the big three: football, basketball, and baseball.
COPPOCK: Long before Tommy Lasorda became the High Priest of all things "Dodger Blue," he began his career with "Dem Bums" as a scout.
This was back in the early '60s, long before Lasorda took over the Dodgers' lineup card from Walter "Smoky" Alston. And Lasorda has told me on a number of occasions that the best catcher he had ever scouted was Doug Buffone.
BUFFONE: I really loved baseball, even more than football.
I didn't like watching games, but I loved to play ball. There was something about hitting a home run that I just loved. So, I'm playing three sports and I'm also playing the trumpet.
Lasorda said to me, "I want you to be part of the Dodgers." Tommy sold me hard. Tom also wanted to sign Joe Namath, who was from Beaver Falls, about an hour away from Yatesboro.
He said he'd give me $6,000 if I signed. I'd never seen any money in my life. I really wanted to sign.
But my mother, Adeline, and my old man told me they wouldn't let me sign. They were determined that I was going to go to college. I was a good student in high school. They were right about college.
I had one other option.
I was serious about becoming a priest. I even met with our local padre to talk about my future. We were a very close town when it came to religion. I was thinking about it as a vocation.
However, when I told my dad I was thinking about becoming a priest, he looked me right in the eye and said, "What are you, a moron?" Shortly after that, I lost my virginity in Yatesboro.
My old man knew that his kid was on testosterone overload.CHAPTER 2
The Legend of Ruffi
COPPOCK: A profile of young Doug with the tough dad is emerging. Tell us the story of the dog that flew south because you guessed wrong.
BUFFONE: Ruffi, the Wonder Beagle.
COPPOCK: Your dog growing up.
BUFFONE: Actually, my old man's dog. They always went hunting together.
COPPOCK: I can almost see Sam Buffone, after a long day in the mines, drenched in sweat and grime, coming home to his wife and seven kids and finding a large degree of solace and comfort with his beloved beagle curled up next to his ankles.
BUFFONE: It always seemed like Dad worked at least 10 hours a day. He wasn't going to walk away from overtime. If there was a chance to make a few extra dollars, he was gonna grab it.
COPPOCK: I have this vision of Sam closing his eyes and heaving a huge sigh of relief as he tenderly pet Ruffi, while his kids argued over watching The Beverly Hillbillies or The Fugitive.
Perhaps, he looked over at his beleaguered wife and wondered just how in the hell she kept the clothes moving from generation to generation, patching holes and darning socks to get just one more season out of a pair of hand-me-down, dime-store Argyles.
BUFFONE: (Smiling) I admired the work ethic of my old man and a mother who just wasn't allowed to get sick, making sure we always had clothes. They helped shape my never-ending persistence on the football field and in life. I knew at an early age I wanted out of Yatesboro. I determined early on that I wasn't going to look back.
Every night, when my dad got home, he looked forward to being with his buddy, Ruffi. That little beagle was a highlight of his life, a comfort at the end of the day.
COPPOCK: Yeah, we're here to celebrate the legacy of good old Ruffi. The fact is that the old timers will tell you they just don't make 'em like "the Ruffster" anymore.
BUFFONE: Poor Ruffi.
My dad and his dog. You have to understand a few things before we really settle into this story.
From the time I was in the second grade, I was around guns. I never feared them because they were just an accepted part of our lives.
If you went through our house, we had 12, 16, and 20-gauge shotguns as well as handguns. I think the first time I ever shot a rifle was when I was seven years old. Remember this, besides working the mines, my dad was also a cop.
COPPOCK: With just four rooms and all that artillery, did you ever run out of space to sleep?
BUFFONE: We damn near did. Dad really loved to go out and hunt. I know it took his mind off the drudgery of his job, but you have to understand the bigger picture.
From the time I was six years old, I knew that if my old man bagged a deer, that "trophy" wasn't going to find its way to our living room wall. It sure as hell wasn't going to be mounted.
It was going to find its way to a frying pan.
Hell, Bambi wouldn't have lasted.
Dad treated hunting as a part-time job. I guess he saw the so-called "sport" of what he was doing, but it was really about putting groceries on the table. Wealthy people, dentists, doctors, and lawyers would come in from the Pittsburgh suburbs to hunt. To them, it was just a game.
To us, it was dinner.
COPPOCK: And Ruffi was Sam Buffone's point man, so to speak.
BUFFONE: I was about 14 years old and was with my dad and his dog as we hunted deer, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, and maybe even an occasional bear.
One day, I was carrying a 12-gauge when I saw a white-on-white rabbit. Ruffi was trying to outrace him. Well, I fired my rifle and I really thought I had bagged the sucker.
After my shot, my dad yelled out, "Did you get him?" I was squinting into the brush and said, "Dad, I'm not sure." I looked again and then I blurted out, "Dad, I think I shot Ruffi."
Well, my father races over and there's his poor dog lying on his back with his paws up in the air.
You can't make this shit up. Poor Ruffi was history, paws up, dead as a door nail. I hate like hell to say this, but it really was funny.
But my old man went nuts. He yelled at me: "You dumb son of a bitch, ya killed Ruffi."
COPPOCK: Did your dad call a priest?
BUFFONE: No, I wish he had called for the last rites. That would have been easier. Instead, the old man's eyes were blasting a hole right through me. He was groaning about Ruffi and told me to get my ass home and come back with a shovel.
He made me dig a grave for Ruffi.
I dug and dug until, finally, I'm maybe three feet into the ground, and I asked the old man if I could stop.
He just screamed at me, "Keep on digging." Hell, I began to think I was digging a hole for the dog and me.
Listen, my old man lived to be 94 years old. He didn't hang around that long because he was soft or easygoing. He was adamant that Ruffi was going to leave with class.
I really didn't understand this at the time, but when Ruffi went down, Dad was sad because he'd lost a dog he truly loved. But, there was more to it than that.
Dad knew he was probably never going to find another dog as good as Ruffi. A dog that helped him feed me and my six brothers and sisters. That little guy was his partner in bringing home the bacon.
COPPOCK: Did you tell your dad with any kind of a break you would have bagged the rabbit and not Rin Tin Tin?
BUFFONE: Of course. But the old man didn't want to hear my lame-ass excuse that Ruffi had jumped in at the last instant. All I really remember was him barking at me, "Keep on digging."
In my own way, I probably felt worse than my dad did. I loved hunting. It was very exciting to me. I guess it gave me a youthful sense of adventure. Nowadays, I have a tough time pulling the trigger if I see a deer prancing around.
COPPOCK: For the record, Senator Buffone, I feel the same. I've said for years that I'd be happy to declare hunting a sport if they gave some poor doe or fawn a rifle and let them shoot back.
BUFFONE: I get that, but here's what you have to understand. Hunting was so much a part of what Yatesboro and the surrounding small towns were all about. It was a way of life for us. Sure, guys would boast when they nailed a big deer, but for most of the families, it was almost like a business.
Guys were trying to feed hungry mouths.
Deer are beautiful animals, but the farmers were allowed to shoot all of them they wanted because the damn things would just chew the hell out of their corn crops. You have no idea how much damage one buck can do to a guy's field.
COPPOCK: That tells me the fine art of poaching had to be a necessity.
BUFFONE: Sure it was. On the first day of hunting season, the whole damn town wore "hunting red" outfits. In a way, you were competing as much against your next door neighbor as you were against the animals.
Speaking of which, I've got to tell you this story about how hunting cost me a year of high school basketball.
COPPOCK: Where the hell are you going? Since when did hunting and hoops share the same platform?
BUFFONE: You're going to love this, Coppock.
Every year, from the time I was a little kid, my dad took me out for the opening day of hunting season. We were out before 5:00 in the morning. I loved it.
Well, in my sophomore year at Shannock Valley High School, my old man, as usual, took me out on Day One of the hunting season. That pissed the living daylights out of a guy named Hoffman who was our head basketball coach.
Hoffman and I never hit it off. The guy was crazy. He wanted us all to be skinheads. He thought crew cuts were too long. Well, I told him that I wasn't going to cut my hair.
Hey, I was the best player he had on his basketball team. I averaged damn near 30 points a game. I poured in points before the term "pure shooter" became part of the basketball language.
COPPOCK: So who wins this great conflict?
He got the team together and said, "Mr. Buffone seems to think that he should coach this team, but there is only one coach and that coach is me."
The son of a bitch kicked me off the team.
COPPOCK: This has a vibe that reminds me of the movie Hoosiers, where the mythical Indiana town of Hickory, population of about 150 people, is up in arms over the town's new head basketball coach, Norman Dale, played brilliantly by Gene Hackman, who's about as beloved as a swarm of lepers.
Hackman kicks a couple of players off the team and they come back repentant. They added Jimmy Chitwood and the club went on to win the state title.
BUFFONE: (Laughs) My story didn't quite play out that way. This wasn't a Hollywood movie.
Hoffman really took his lumps. The school principal tried to talk him into letting me play. I thought my old man was gonna kill him. The whole town really rallied to my support. Everybody was up his ass trying to force him to play me.
He never bent.
Looking back now on what Hoffman did, I have to admire the guy. He never backed down. The team had a lousy year, but Hoffman had taught me a lesson: you can't have a separate set of rules, even for a superstar, on a young team. All your players have to follow the same path.
COPPOCK: I know for years you used to go hunting every fall to see your brothers and hang out with old pals.
BUFFONE: That was a Buffone tradition.
However, it really began to change for me in 2013. I shot a beautiful deer, and I have to be frank — the sight of the poor animal whining in helpless pain before it died just broke my heart.
Really, when I would go back to Yatesboro to hunt, it was all about camaraderie, catching up with guys you just don't get to see often enough. I used to sit up in a tree stand for 10 or 12 hours, waiting for my big opportunity. I also hunted with my brothers: Joey, Sammy, and Dennis.
Now, I just don't think I could take an animal out, not even a squirrel.
I also stopped hunting on the day the deer stand busted and part of the structure broke, and a piece of it damn near went up my ass. I wasn't thinking deer. I was thinking proctologist.
I was sitting with John Kulick, my best friend, when this happened. Naturally, he laughed like hell.
You know when I really think about the last 10 years, I didn't really give a damn about landing any big prizes. I know there were times when I shied away from pulling the trigger when I had a small deer in my range.
I just couldn't do it.
But I guess you're a product of your background, your growing-up years. If I was out with the guys right now and had the chance to land a big buck, I might go for it.
Excerpted from Doug Buffone: Monster of the Midway by Doug Buffone, Chet Coppock. Copyright © 2015 Doug Buffone and Chet Coppock. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Author's Note Chet Coppock ix
Foreword Dan Hampton xiii
Chapter 1 Yatesboro…Raised, in a Mining Town 1
Chapter 2 The Legend of Ruffi 7
Chapter 3 Here Come the Hillbillies 15
Chapter 4 Off to Blue Grass Country 23
Chapter 5 The Old Man and His Young Genius 33
Chapter 6 NFL Primetime 41
Chapter 7 Big Abe 47
Chapter 8 The Neanderthal Gene 57
Chapter 9 Lion Tough (Say Hell to Charlie Sanders) 65
Chapter 10 Tragedy in Detroit 71
Chapter 11 Sweetness and Today's NFL 77
Chapter 12 Doug Plank: Blonde and Bloody 89
Chapter 13 'Roids and Uppers: the NFL Diet 95
Chapter 14 Training Camp Wars 99
Chapter 15 Game Day 105
Chapter 16 Say Amen and Grab a Cigarette 113
Chapter 17 Can't Win for Losin' 119
Chapter 18 When You Gotta Go, You Gotta GO! 127
Chapter 19 Buffone Answers All Mail 133
Chapter 20 K.C. and the Slaughterhouse Band 139
Chapter 21 Meet Private Buffone 147
Chapter 22 Battlih Bears 155
Chapter 23 What Next? Life After the NFL 165
Chapter 24 What? Mike Ditka Quotable? 175
Chapter 25 The Wife Is Always Right 181
Chapter 26 The Wrigley Field Rat Race 189
Chapter 27 Just Savin 193
Chapter 28 Cant We All Just Get Along? 197
Chapter 29 The Sunshine Boys 207
Chapter 30 Buffone's Top 10 Most Competitive Bears 219
Chapter 31 Close Encounters of the Third Kind 225
Chapter 32 The Last Hurrah…Buffone Reflects 231
In Memoriam 247
About the Authors 251