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. Rays' Evan Longoria: "We have all the belief in the world in here"


    The weekend sweep by Texas and four-game overall losing streak has some Rays fans - based on their tweets and emails - questioning the team's ability to make the playoffs and suggesting they might as well trade away their key parts.

  2. What are the odds the Rays trade for Brad Hand or Pat Neshek?


    In each of the last three seasons, the Rays have been sellers at the trade deadline. They shipped away David Price in 2014, got rid of David DeJesus and Kevin Jepsen in 2015 and flipped Matt Moore, Steve Pearce and Brandon Guyer in 2016.

    Padres left-hander Brad Hand has excelled in his two years with the team.
  3. Gerald McCoy cares too much about what you think of him

    The Heater

    Gerald McCoy is right. We are going to miss him when he's gone.

    Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is one of 16 players to record at least five sacks in each of the past five seasons. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  4. Ronde Barber says comments about McCoy 'sensationalized'


    If anyone thinks Ronde Barber was throwing shade at Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, think again.

    "That anyone would assume I would say the best player on the defense isn’t a bad dude is irresponsible and sensationalizing a quote to serve their own means,'' Ronde Barber said.
  5. USA Today sees Bucs as 10-6 wild card team in 2017


    Another day, another national outlet making NFL predictions, and this one is promising for Tampa Bay fans, as USA Today's Nate Davis has the Bucs going 10-6 and making the …

    Bucs DT Gerald McCoy tries to bring down Giants QB Eli Manning in a 2015 game. Tampa Bay and New York are both picked to finish 10-6 in USA Today's preseason predictions, both making the playoffs as wild cards.