History of ………. The Butkus League
It’s that time of year once again…..time for the Butkus Bowl! This year’s edition is Butkus Bowl XX. “XX” stands for twenty, for those of you uninclined to read Roman numerals. That means we’re already completing our 20th annual season of fantasy college football. What a long, strange trip it’s been.
Today the “Dutch Lion” will put into words the complete (yet hopefully concise) history of the Butkus League. This is the “Total Butkus” history book, if you will. Let me share with you our story.
Back in college my buddies and I used to play fantasy sports. In fact, I vaguely remember my very first league. My first fantasy sports experience was the 1994 baseball season. This dude named Derek lived on my dorm floor at the U of I in Champaign, Illinois. We lived on the 4th floor of Hopkins Hall. I roomed with my buddy Brian from high school. Brian and I played basketball and baseball together at Lake Zurich High School. So when we went off to college in the Fall of 1993 we decided to room together. We met a bunch of cool guys in Hopkins Hall, including my friend Jeff a year later.
So in Spring of ’94 Derek created a fantasy baseball league. I remember him walking up and down the halls of the dorm inviting anybody who wanted to join a “fantasy baseball league”. At the time I didn’t even know what it was. What was a “fantasy baseball league”?
I was invited late to the party so I had to draft my team from a pool of leftovers after seven other teams had already been drafted! Needless to say, I stunk! I think my lousy starting rotation consisted of “Kirk McCaskill and the 4 Latinos”. The “4 Latinos” consisted of Alex Fernandez, Ramon Martinez (Pedro’s older brother), Wilson Alvarez, and Joaquin Andujar (just kidding). It was probably some scrub from the White Sox like Melido Perez or Jose DeLeon. My catcher was probably Ron Karkovice and my best hitter was probably Bob Hamelin or Devon White. Unfortunately, that roster has been lost to history. Check that….. “Fortunately”!
After baseball ’94, we started playing everything. We played fantasy to the extreme! We played MLB, NFL, and NBA. Remember, this was back in the mid 90’s. We actually weren’t using any online resources at that point in time. We bought USA Today’s “Baseball Weekly” every Wednesday to calculate our stats from the previous week. Baseball Weekly would print the Monday through Sunday weekly numbers and have it published on the following Wednesday. Can I put a rush on that shipping? I’ll pay extra for overnight delivery! Three days after the close of the week wasn’t awful.
However, controversy lurked around every corner. Watching ESPN’s SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight were our main sources of information. The second Peter Gammons reported something, most of our ten league members would be watching and commit to picking up the hot player that Mr. Gammons was glowing about. Typically a pickup consisted of someone shouting out quicker than anyone else, “I’m picking up Hideo Nomo. I’m dropping Jose DeLeon”. Of course, you had to have a player ready to drop. You can’t claim a guy unless you release a guy, right? We’d call each other on landline phones to report the pickup and the person answering would usually say, “We already picked him up”, which was maybe bogus but what can you do? Therefore, the controversy! Who gets him? It was the Wild West down in Champaign, Illinois.
MLB, NFL, and NBA leagues continued like this through 1998. Then in the Summer of 1999, something historic would happen. Derek, Simon, and yours truly founded our fantasy college football league. We brainstormed about how it would work, the rules, the format, and the league members. It started out as a group of three Illini buddies and our friends so we named it after a former U of I great. Hence, the Butkus League was born! Named after Dick Butkus, perhaps the greatest linebacker of all time, from Chicago’s CVS High School, the University of Illinois, and the Chicago Bears, Butkus was an obvious namesake for our league. I invited another U of I grad, Jeff, and his cousin Mike to join. Another U of I grad named Raj was an obvious member. Simon invited his friend Leo, who hailed from the North Shore and went to Loyola (IL) Chicago, to form our “Original Seven” members.
The early years consisted of late night drafts at small downtown Chicago apartments. We used magazines more than computers to draft our teams. We discovered the God of college football, Phil Steele. In 2000, Phil worshipped a dude so heavily in his College Football Preview Magazine, a JC transfer that nobody had seen play, predicting that he would become the best back at that school since BO JACKSON! How could I not take Rudi Johnson? I did, at #2 overall. He only played one season, but it was worth it! Rudi was the man! Thank you Phil. How could anyone ever doubt Mr. Steele again? By the way, let’s have drinks PS. I owe you one, or three.
Butkus League membership has evolved over the years. Ever since our second season of 2000, we’ve had at least eight and sometimes as many as ten members. Now defunct (maybe my favorite word ever!) teams were headed by my brother-in-law Jay, Derek’s brother Luke, an awesome dude named Brandon, as well as Leo and Raj who have moved on to better things, lives filled with more meaning and less heartbreak.
Current membership includes five of the Original Members (Derek, Jeff, Mike, Simon, and myself) along with Brian (joined ’07), Dave (joined ’12), and Jon (joined ’04). This group has been the same since 2014.
- Illinois Fighting Illini (5) – Brian, Derek, Jeff, Simon, Reid
- Western Illinois Leathernecks (1) – Mike
- Iowa Hawkeyes (1) – Dave
- unknown (1) – Jon (I don’t know where Jon went, and frankly, I don’t trust the school.)
Craziest thing about the long, illustrious history of the Butkus League? Derek’s dominance. You can’t write the history of the league unless you point out how Derek has absolutely dominated it. He’s good, he’s lucky, he just plain wins. No matter what the rules are (and trust me we’ve changed the rules many times over the years) Derek always finds a way to win. Worst “Derek Luck” ever was the 2011 Butkus Bowl in which Derek’s last remaining player, Tavon Austin/WR/West Virginia, scored 4 TD’s, matching and doubling his season output through 12 games of 4 TD’s, to score 39 points and give Derek the Championship over Mike. (Remember that year West Virginia hung 70 points on Clemson?!?) Sorry Mike. It hurts bro, we know. 😦
With Derek, these happenings are more often the norm than the exception. Also, you never want to hear Derek’s annual “Kiss of Death” in which he belittles his own team, states that he has no chance, that it’s over, that you beat him. Only then does madness ensue. It’s like a call to Beelzebub, ruler of the dark. We infer that’s how the Tavon Austin type craziness got jump started. What else could it be other than the devil?
Butkus Bowl Championships:
- Derek (13) – 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005-2011 (7 straight), 2013, 2016, 2017
- Simon (2) – 2000, 2014
- Mike (1) – 2001
- Jeff (1) – 2004
- Brian (1) – 2012
- Jon (1) – 2015
- Dave & Reid (0)
- Brandon, Jay, Leo, Luke, Raj (0) – all defunct! teams, do you blame them for quitting?
Our Butkus League Championship is determined by the winner of the Butkus Bowl. Other Bowls include the Rice Bowl (named after Illini stud Simeon Rice), the Corso Classic (named after ESPN GameDay’s Lee Corso), and the USF&G Verduzco Bowl Presented by Sunkist (named after Illini’s mediocre QB Jason Verduzco with an ode to great sponsors of past Sugar Bowls and Fiesta Bowls of days gone by).
At some point I calculated our “Real Champs” which is the champion as calculated through cumulative points. Most fantasy college leagues do NOT use the bowls and have either a “playoff” on Thanksgiving weekend or just use total cumulative points to determine a champion.
Butkus League “Real Champs” (No completed data for 2011 & 2012, as of yet, but that reminds me I need to work on that):
- Derek (9) – 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2016, 2017
- Reid (2) – 2010, 2014
- Mike (2) – 2001, 2002
- Simon (2) – 2000, 2007
- Jeff (1) – 2004
- Brian (1) – 2015
There is no entry fee, no winnings, and no gambling in our Butkus League. And participants could care less. This league is about something much more important than cash. It’s about pride. It’s about bragging rights. It’s about getting our grubby hands on the Butkus Bowl Trophy. It’s about building our teams through our amazing “dynasty” model. We keep up to 14 players each year to form the basis of our 24 man roster. Thus, our annual Butkus League Draft consists of mainly freshmen being drafted right away in our 1st round. Most 1st rounders have never even played a college game! It makes for great drama.
All in all, the Butkus League is the greatest league I’ve ever been a part of. It’s about old rivalries. It’s about friends that have competed in everything since our college days of youth and stupidity. It’s about getting together in person at least once a year for a live draft event. It’s about playing GM or Head Coach of your own “program”. It’s totally fun. It’s totally insane. Yet heartbreak exists constantly unless you’re Derek.
Open Letter to Derek: Please consider retiring. We’ll still invite you to the Draft. In fact, maybe you would like to be our non-team-owning Commissioner. It’s time. Give others a chance! Think of a protest in the streets, with chants of “No More “Derek Luck”! No More “Derek Luck!”
Getting back to “Derek Luck”….. it’s a real thing. None of us have ever quite figured it out but we suspect Derek made a deal with the devil back in the late 90s. “Derek Luck” was initiated when we decided to pull numbers out of a hat to determine the original ’99 Draft Order. Derek drew #1 and took Drew Brees, QB of Purdue. Uhh, Brees is still playing in case you haven’t noticed. Maybe it will take Brees retiring for “Derek Luck” to officially be buried.
As for me, I’m still looking for the elusive Butkus Bowl Trophy. I’ve never won this league in 20 years! Sometimes I wonder why I’m still playing. The Heartbreak has been immense. “Reid’s Cornhuskers” are 0-7 in Butkus Bowls and tired of the agony.
On the flip side, how sweet will it be when I finally win! And once I win, I’m gonna win often. We’re talking two, three in a row. Five titles over a decade. I’m guessing 8 Championships over the next 20 years. I just need the luck to break my way. Make room on that Butkus Bowl Trophy gentlemen. Create space for the newly engraved plaques. “Reid’s Cornhuskers” will reign!
Who knows, maybe 8 Titles is conservative. I guess that’s my fantasy. For those of us that play fantasy sports, I guess that’s all our fantasies. The Butkus League……. THE fantasy league of all fantasy leagues.
Thanks for reading!
Reid “Dutch Lion” Wiersema – Owner of “Reid’s Cornhuskers” (2 Time “Real Champs” and future 8 Time Butkus Bowl Champion 😉