General

Making a plug for ‘Pug’

This Wisch List column originally appeared in the The Daily Times (Ottawa, Ill.) in 2004, and is included in my published book, “Northern IlliNOISE: Tales of a Territory.”

Making a plug for ‘Pug’

The WISCH LIST

March 30, 2004

Portrait of Russell DaugherityBack in the 1920s, newspaper editors in Chicago loved Russ Daugherity the way they loved a sensational headline.

They slapped enormous photos of him on the front of their sports pages. They boasted how he was “one of the most popular gentlemen about the campus” at the University of Illinois. And they proclaimed that he had “a stack of friends on every corner of the crowded fraternity district, and they all sing loudly about how that boy can play football, basketball and on down the list.”

Heck, by the looks of some of the yellowed newspaper clippings that Ottawa resident Nancy Reinhardt has about her uncle – the late Russell “Pug” Daugherity – it seemed that the only guy getting more ink in Chicago during the “Roaring Twenties” was Al Capone.

And Pug’s press was a lot more positive.

“He was the best athlete in the state of Illinois at the time,” Reinhardt said about Daugherity, a 1921 Streator High School graduate, longtime Ottawa resident, and one of the greatest sports figures that La Salle County has ever produced.

“Streator claims him because he went to Streator High School,” Reinhardt said about Daugherity, who helped lead the Bulldogs to the state basketball tournament’s Sweet 16 in 1920. “But, really, he lived his entire adult life in Ottawa. And I know he considered Ottawa home.”

In turn, Ottawa now has a chance to give Daugherity – a 6-foot-2 super-athlete who blocked for the legendary Harold “Red” Grange on the gridiron and led the Illini basketball team in scoring from 1925-27 – a permanent home on the University of Illinois’ All-Century Basketball Team.

But to do so, Pug needs your plug.

As part of the festivities for its 100th season of basketball in 2004-05, the U. of I. will be naming a 15-player All-Century Team. Through April 5, fans can vote for their favorites online at fightingillini.com and are asked to chose three players from Era One (1906-1947), Two (1948-75) and Three (1976-present), plus six more players from any era.

Russ Daugherity, an All-Big Ten first-teamer in basketball in 1925 and ’27, is one of the Era One nominees (there are 83 players listed overall), and with La Salle County roots that run as deep as the Illinois River, he would make a nice local addition to the squad.

As well as a worthy one.

When Daugherity graduated from Streator High, the Hardscrabble yearbook proclaimed him to be the greatest athlete that the school had ever seen, and perhaps the best in the entire state. Illinois recruited Daugherity out of high school, but initially he spurned the Illini’s overtures and enrolled at a small college in Indiana.

“His brother, Byron Daugherity, died in Huff Gym (home of the Illini basketball team) in 1919 during a horrible flu pandemic,” Reinhardt explained. “That was one reason why he didn’t want to go to Illinois.”

After discovering that small-school sports simply weren’t up to snuff, however, Daugherity decided to transfer to Illinois and proceeded to make a name for himself. A big one.

As a fullback on the Illinois football team, a newspaper reported that the powerful Daugherity once caused the fans to “throw their coonskin coats and woolen blankets in the air” after a particularly impressive run. On the basketball court at Huff Gym, he wowed the crowds as well, leading the Illini in scoring for three seasons with averages of 6.5, 5.8 and 7.9 points per game.

“They didn’t score much back then,” Reinhardt said with a laugh.

During his senior basketball season in 1926-27, Daugherity – the team’s captain – was the lone player featured on Illinois’ poster schedule, which included opponents such as Coe College, Drake, Butler and North Dakota. Admission was 75 cents, but went up to a dollar for Big Ten games.

After college, Daugherity, who is buried at Oakwood Memorial Park in Ottawa, would go on to spend five seasons as the head football coach at Rice University in Houston, serve as a Naval officer during World War II and, upon returning home, work as director of athletics at the now-defunct School for Boys in Sheridan.

In the early 1950s while living in Ottawa, he even ran for La Salle County Sheriff. However, in spite of the campaign efforts by none other than Red Grange, Daugherity’s bid fell short.

Five decades later, though, we now have another chance to vote him in thanks to the Illinois All-Century Team.

And late is better than never, don’t you think?

To cast your vote for Pug, visit fightingillini.com through April 5.

EPILOGUE: Facing stiff competition from dozens of greats throughout 100 years of Fighting Illini basketball, Pug Daugherity did receive his share of votes from supporters across La Salle County.

But as the clock expired on the online competition, the area’s old-time legend wasn’t able to crack the University of Illinois All-Century Team’s roster as only one player from Pug’s decade – All-American Chuck Carney (1920-22) – made the final cut.