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Dan Hampton, fellow ex-Bears mourn the loss of Doug Buffone

There might not be a former player who loved the Chicago Bears more than Doug Buffone.

When Dan Hampton joined the Bears as a first-round draft pick in 1979, Walter Payton was all the rage going into his fifth season.

Someone else caught Hampton's attention right away, a veteran who was still hobbled somewhat from a previous Achilles tendon injury, Doug Buffone. The rookie quickly looked up to Buffone and although their careers intersected in only that one season, they remained lifelong friends.

Buffone died Monday at his Chicago home. He was 70.

Hampton was saddened recalling the start of his friendship with Buffone.

"Everybody knew who Walter was, but I was fascinated with this dude," Hampton said. "He was like the Dos Equis guy. He was cool. He was the big man on Rush Street and he was larger than life. It didn't take you long going through two-a-days and you knew he was the old, broken-down horse. But he was a wonderfully valuable member of the team in his 14th year and he was so selfless and had such a great sense of humor.

"In my last year, I was pissed off all the time because I wasn't the same. Not Doug. He was very gracious and he accepted his role."

Before Hampton's arrival, Buffone was a terrific linebacker. Only long snapper Patrick Mannelly (16), played more seasons than Buffone (14), and Buffone was defensive captain his final eight years. Buffone held the distinction of being the last active player to have played for George Halas. He connected with those who followed him as Ron Rivera, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs all commented on the linebacker who came before them via social media Monday.

Many of Buffone's fans from his work on WSCR-AM 670 never saw him play, but they identified with his intense passion for the Bears. An injury forced Buffone to start two games in 1979, one against the Patriots at Soldier Field. He intercepted Steve Grogan twice to tie and break the franchise record of his good friend Dick Butkus for career interceptions by a linebacker with 24. In the season finale when the Bears needed to crush the Cardinals for a point differential tiebreaker to reach the playoffs, Buffone executed a fake punt in the 42-6 blowout.

In a lot of ways, Buffone was ahead of his time. He was a restaurateur and bar owner and founded what is now known as the Bear Report. From day one, he connected with fans, and nearly everyone has a Buffone story because of his gift for making people laugh and his desire to share his love for the sport.

"He was a great player and a great friend," said Mike Ditka, who played with Buffone during the linebacker's rookie season of 1966. "I have nothing but great memories about him. Doug had a lot of passion for the Bears. I think anybody that has played for the Bears has a passion for them, including myself, (Dick) Butkus and (Gale) Sayers. Doug was a Bear. Besides being a hell of a football player, he was a hell of a guy."

Buffone teamed with defensive end Ed O'Bradovich beginning in 1966 and they became the closest of friends, working for nearly two decades on the Score. They captivated fans after wins and losses on the airwaves.

"Being with Doug the last 49 years, I know that no one person could love a family more than Doug," O'Bradovich said in a statement. "I know that no one person that played the game of football loved it more than Doug did. The bottom line is he was true and loyal to his family, to football and to his friends. I cannot tell you how much I will miss him."

Said Hampton: "OB and I were talking and as much as we love the Bears, we could set fire to the house because they've been so bad. Doug was crazy in love with the damn team. For Doug, not only was it an honor to play for the Bears, but you should be beholden and understand your opportunity and be grateful. As much as he would be distraught, he was always caring and always wanting the Bears to be great almost in a childlike, innocent way.

"The overarching theme of the Doug Buffone is not only was he a big part of the Bears family, he always had this love of the team. He loved, loved, loved the Bears."

Twitter @BradBiggs

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