The hard thing thinking and writing about the death of Doug Buffone is that it’s such a sad exercise, and you just know that Doug would be extremely insulted if there was too much “sad” in anything having to do with him. Your day was always just a little more fun if it had some Doug time in it.
Doug was easily one of the most memorable and enjoyable individuals I have encountered in a quarter-century of covering the Chicago Bears. Period. One of the funniest, most honest, most interesting people – not just player – I have had the pleasure of meeting.
Recalling Doug (and just writing that, “recalling,” is just wrong) is in the form of snapshots, sort of Doug Moments. And just about every time doing my book on “100 Best Chicago Sports Arguments” a few years back, one of the “arguments” was whether Walter Payton or Gale Sayers was in fact the best-ever Chicago Bear running back.
The topic wasn’t an easy one, but the best way to answer it was: Call Doug. Not everyone realized that Doug played with both Gale and with Walter, meaning that he in fact spanned eras, and was himself a star in both.
(For the record, after probably a half-hour of chat that was both hilarious and beyond interesting, Doug cast his vote for Gale, just based on pure running ability.)
Seeing Doug at training camps was a highlight, and seeing how he was with people was its own nugget. This was one of the all-time great football players for one of the NFL’s truly great franchises, and if there was ever anyone who was less a “legend” around folks than Doug, I’d have to see it to believe it. He was the same guy walking along a line of fans, breaking into stories and laughs with them, as he was with any luminary or so-called distinguished individual.
Actually, Doug wasn’t just comfortable with royalty. Doug WAS football royalty.
Doing a story last year on whether players from the NFL’s past could play in the modern NFL, I intentionally saved Doug until near the end of the interview process. Sort of saving the best ‘til last. And Doug was absolutely the best.
“What?!” Doug howled when I told him I was looking hard at whether the best of his time could play today. “Are you kiddin’ me?! Johnny, no way these guys today could play with us!!”
And of course, one of the points Doug threw out there was you had to compare apples to apples. “OK, Johnny, here’s the deal: These guys today have to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, at least two cigarettes at halftime of games, and pound maybe a fifth of Jack Daniels during the week, maybe two. THEN we’ll see who can play when!”
And he’s both laughing the whole time and yelling at the same time, and spot on. And of course, Doug’s suggestion was, “Hey, come to think of it, some Jack Daniels sounds pretty damn good, doesn’t it?” And he’d laugh again.
That‘s maybe the punch line here. Doug didn’t do “sad” very well. It was maybe the only thing he didn’t do well.