Story of the Week

DICK BUTKUS

    He never liked the NFL players he butted helmets with, not even when the game ended. Other players have been known to be worst enemies during the game, but best friends afterward. But not Dick Butkus. It just didnít fit into his concept of how the game should be played.

    Dick Butkus was a Chicagoan, so it was poetic justice that he wound up on the Bears in 1965. It stands to reason that the definitive tale of Butkus is unattributed and perhaps even apocryphal. By the time a shredded right knee forced the middle linebacker to retire in 1973 after only nine pro seasons, he had achieved mythological stature throughout the NFL.

    According to the story, the Baltimore Colts were en route to the airport following a violent afternoon at Wrigley Field. When their bus stopped suddenly in traffic, it was rammed by a trailing vehicle. One Colt player immediately vocalized that it was probably Butkus who purposely rammed the bus. It wasnít, but the Colt who stated it did not do so in jest.

    The linebacker used his 6-3, 245 pound frame like a weapon. He brought a remarkable instinct and an all-consuming frenzy to his position. He didnít run a four-six forty, and he wasnít a great weight lifter, but he simply ate the opposition alive.

    Even Mike Ditka, Butkusí tough former teammate who later coached the Bears, was awestruck. "With the highest respect, I have to say that Dick is an animal," Ditka once said. "He works himself up to such an emotional pitch on the day of the game that no one wants to get near him."

    Butkus finished his pro career with 25 fumble recoveries and 22 interceptions. But even those figures merely suggest the kind of destructive force he was. Butkus once commented, "When I hit a guy, I want him to know who hit him without his having to look around to find out. And I wanted him to know Iíd be back. I wanted him to think about me instead of what he was supposed to be doing."

    A University of Illinois product, Butkus was drafted by the Bears with one of their three first-round picks in 1965. Another of those first-round picks was Gale Sayers. Both careers were cut short by knee injuries. Butkusí knees were so bad the last two years that he rarely practiced during the week; it took him a full week to heal up for the following game.

    But that didnít stop his Herculean feats. He played with reckless abandon right down to his last NFL game. There have been intimidating and ferocious and hard-hitting and mean players in the NFL down through the years, but there has never been a player who typifies this description more than the legendary Dick Butkus. He is the greatest middle linebacker I have ever seen.

Last Weekís Trivia

    What do Arthur Ashe, Bobby Knight and Bill Parcells have in common? They were all coaches of their respective sports at varying levels at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the late 60ís.

Trivia Question of the Week

    What quarterback has led the most fourth quarter comebacks of 10 or more points in NFL history? See next weekís Sports Junkie for the answer.