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Meeting Butkus 'surreal'
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 12/29/2007 12:01 AM

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Illinois football's greatest living icon showed up at practice Friday to inspect the troops and inspire them for Tuesday's Rose Bowl date with USC.

Among other things, Dick Butkus told the Illini to play with a chip on their shoulder and to knock the Trojans on their you-know-whats.

Junior strong-side linebacker Brit Miller, a lifelong Bears and Illini fan, was among those giddy to meet Butkus and shake his hand.

"It was surreal," Miller said. "Just to listen to him talk about the game and how he describes it -- you can just tell he loves it.

"One of the things he said was people always underestimated him. He's lived his life with a chip on his shoulder. He said people can judge his speed and judge his talent but couldn't judge his heart.

"I think that kind of characterizes this team, especially one of our leaders, J Leman. I think maybe someday people will look back on J Leman in a similar light as Dick Butkus."

Zook, Party of 215: If Illinois' collective performance Friday night at the 52nd Lawry's Beef Bowl is a reliable indicator, then USC could be in trouble in the Rose Bowl.

One night after the Trojans' traveling party set a Lawry's record by ingesting 799 pounds of prime rib, the Illini shredded that mark by putting 870 pounds' worth of the succulent meat.

"This is Tuesday of (a normal) game week, so we're OK," Illinois coach Ron Zook said.

It's worth noting though, that Illinois' performance might need to come with an asterisk.

While USC brought 175 players, coaches and others in its traveling party, Illinois set another Lawry's record by bringing 215 people to the private affair.

The Illini had so many players, coaches, managers, spouses, etc. taking part in the event, it took 30 minutes for everyone to walk through the red-carpet gantlet and find a seat.

"It doesn't matter," said Lawry's representative, Todd Erickson, who's been handling the Beef Bowl for 15 years. "It's still a record."

In the 51 previous Beef Bowls, the winner also went on to take the Rose Bowl 35 times.

That's a .686 winning percentage that would be higher if not for Michigan's terrible Rose Bowl showings. The Wolverines are 13-3 in Beef Bowls but 5-11 in Rose Bowls during the Lawry's era.

Individual excellence: Freshman guard Jack Cornell won the unofficial intrasquad competition at Lawry's by wolfing down six pieces of prime rib.

Lawry's said its regular pieces weigh in at 22 ounces, so the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Cornell might have eaten as much as 8.25 pounds of meat.

Each serving came with heaping helpings of mashed potatoes and corn as well. Fortunately for Cornell, he's redshirting this season and won't be called on to play Tuesday.

Whether he can handle his usual scout-team duties today is another question.