Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ditka joins mourners at Rick Casares memorial

Rick Casares

Times files

Rick Casares

TAMPA — Standing before roughly 250 mourners Wednesday, Dennis Antinori peeled back the brawny, brute-force layers of one of Chicago's most iconic Bears and revealed the teddy.

Antinori recalled how first cousin Rick Casares, then amid a 10-year stint as a Bears fullback, improvised — in floral grace — when he was unable to attend the funeral of a female relative due to his NFL commitments.

Every Saturday for 52 weeks, Casares had roses placed on her tombstone.

The "caring, loving, sensitive" side of Casares — along with his fierceness and flamboyance — was celebrated on a bright, windy west Tampa morning Wednesday at Town 'N Country's Incarnation Catholic Church.

Casares died Friday at his Tampa home of natural causes. He was 82.

"My best description of him was he was a gentle giant," Antinori said.

Pro Football Hall of Famers Mike Ditka and Paul Hornung were among four eulogists who paid tribute to the Tampa native, who excelled in four sports at Jefferson High and achieved football immortality with the Florida Gators, Bears and two other NFL teams.

Former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez, a fellow Jefferson alumnus, attended as did Linda McEwen, widow of former Tampa Tribune sports columnist Tom McEwen. Casares' widow, Polly, greeted mourners near the church foyer beside her husband's open silver casket.

"Today, and only today, I've witnessed something I've never witnessed before — so much love coming from one group," Hornung said.

Ditka, a teammate of Casares on the Bears' 1963 NFL championship team, called the 6-foot-2, 226-pound fullback the toughest player he ever met. To illustrate, Ditka recalled Casares playing an entire game with a broken bone in his leg.

"He never said a word," said Ditka, known as "Mikey Baby" to Casares. "He's who we all wanted to be."

A veritable Midwest matinee idol during his decade (1955-64) with the Bears, Casares remains the franchise's No. 3 rusher. As charming as he was chiseled, he was a late arrival to parties but the one certain to close it down. Rugged and resilient on the field, he was fastidious about his appearance off it.

"When Rick Casares went to the mailbox, he was clean-shaven," Antinori recalled. "He had a nice pair of slacks and a clean, pressed shirt."

Hornung, who first met Casares on a recruiting trip to Florida, said his close friend easily won his mom over when they traveled together. Ms. Hornung was among thousands who swooned over Casares, yet he remained faithfully wed to Polly for more than 40 years.

"My mother used to be a Packer fan," said Hornung, a member of four NFL title teams in Green Bay. "But after that … "

The charm was no sham, eulogists agreed. Another cousin, Ernie Casares, recalled a trip to a Gator game during his grammar school days, when Casares, then a player, took him and some pals around the facilities as if they were VIPs.

At the end, Casares gave each of them a football from a laundry hamper.

"I don't know that I've ever had a better present in my entire life," Ernie said.

Ditka joins mourners at Rick Casares memorial 09/18/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 9:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Five cool things to do when it's hot outside


    Summer is not officially here, but it may as well be. School is out, vacations are coming, and it's time to enjoy the outdoors. Don't buy the argument that summer in Florida is too hot to get outside. There is plenty to do, and we'll prove it. Here are five cool things to do outdoors during another hot summer.

    Rainbow Springs State Park is a registered natural landmark. Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon is one several state parks with natural swimming holes in Florida. (Octavio Jones | Times)
  2. Rays morning after: A lot that went into a marathon win


    Rays manager Kevin Cash had a simple strategy when Fox Sports Sun's Alex Corddry asked him how the team would move on from Sunday's marathon win and get ready to face the Rangers tonight in Texas:

    Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays celebrates as teammate Michael Martinez slides safely into home plate to score a run against the Minnesota Twins during the 14th inning.
  3. Rays journal: Erasmo Ramirez ready to start a day after closing game

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — RHP Erasmo Ramirez was on the mound to finish Sunday's 15-inning marathon win over the Twins and will start tonight's game against the Rangers.

    The Rays’ Erasmo Ramirez throws 12 pitches in the 15th inning against the Twins to earn the save then says after the game that he’s ready to make his scheduled start against the Rangers: “My arm feels good.”
  4. Rays exhausted but happy after 15-inning win over Twins (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — Before the Rays eventually won Sunday's 6½-hour, 15-inning marathon against the Twins 8-6, they did plenty to lose it. And we need to get that out of the way first.

    The Rays’ Evan Longoria enjoys a laugh after scoring, barely, to tie it in the ninth on Steven Souza Jr.’s two-out single.
  5. Tom Jones' Two Cents: ABC's Indy 500 coverage is stellar again

    TV and Radio

    Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Takuma Sato left, celebrates after winning the Indianapolis 500 as Helio Castroneves is a little late passing him. ABC’s coverage of the race is stellar throughout, with plenty of extras but no fake drama.