BUTKUS

It’s draft day 2012. I love football and I’m going to talk Butkus. There was a monster. A monster of the Midway.

Many years ago, I saw Dick Butkus play. I was 7 years old. I can’t remember the game or Butkus playing. I do remember my dad talking about this man like he was from another planet. Butkus. The name is synonymous with linebacker. It’s almost a cliché.

Back in 2011, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher broke the team’s all-time record for tackles. Invariably Chicago’s sports morons had to spout off where Urlacher ranks in the pantheon of the Chicago Bear linebackers. There’s several greats: Clyde Bulldog Turner, Bill George, Butkus, Larry Morris, Doug Buffone, Mike Singletary, Otis Wilson, Wilbur Marshall, and current stand-out Lance Briggs. The notion that Urlacher ranks as an all-time Bears linebacker is moot. He’s not even the best linebacker on the team. Briggs is a better player. I laugh when I hear these clowns compare Urlacher to Butkus. I’m not an Urlacher fan. I have problems watching modern football. Overpaid crybabies. They don’t make ’em like they used too.

The Hardin-Simmons product Bulldog Turner was a two-way player at center and linebacker for the mighty Bears of the 40’s. Contemporary sports analysts compare him to the legendary Concrete Charley aka Chuck Bednarik, who nearly killed Frank Gifford one afternoon. Turner and Bednarik are in the Hall of Fame. So is Gifford. #61 Bill George defined the MLB position when he dropped off the line from noseguard. He’s in the HOF too. When Butkus came to camp in ’65, George allegedly commented my playing days are over. They were. He asked Halas to trade him to the Redskins and he finished his 14 year career in DC.

Larry Morris was MVP of the ’63 Championship squad. He was voted to the all-1960’s team. There were some mean fuckers in those days with Ray Nitschke, Bill George, Joe Schmidt, Butkus, and Tommy Nobis terrorizing running backs. Doug Buffone played 14 seasons with the Bears. He’s been nominated for induction into the HOF. He may yet get there. He was missing his front teeth. Lions HOF TE Charlie Sanders knocked them out. I saw Buffone’s last regular season game in 1979. The Bears made up a point deficit to enter the playoffs versus the St. Louis Cardinals, and Walter surpassed OJ Anderson as the NFC rushing leader. In the AFC, Earl ran over everyone.

I saw all those linebackers in the 80’s. Otis “The Big O” Wilson shut down HOF TE Kellen Winslow in 1981. I later spotted Wilson as a jailer in the movie “The Fugitive”. Wilson and Wilbur Marshall were the best outside pair of linebackers I ever saw. They were even better than Singletary, who’s in the HOF.

I met Butkus in the early 90’s. He signed a jersey for me. He wasn’t a very nice man. Grumbled a lot. Didn’t like chit chat. I asked him who the toughest running back was. He didn’t answer me. “I donno. There were a lot of tough running backs.” He replied in such way that I could tell he didn’t much like running backs or talking to people. He knew who the tough runners were. I told my dad that I thought Butkus was a dick-head. He said “What did you expect?” I still have the jersey.

I asked the historian at the Hall of Fame in Canton, who the greatest middle linebacker was. He replied, “I hate that question… There are so many great players from different eras…”. I pressed on, wanting a direct answer. He finally conceded, “If I were to pick one, Butkus comes to mind.” I knew he was going to say that.

In “Truly Great: The 200 Best Football Players of All Time” (Rick Korch, 1993), HOF historian Jim Campbell says “Butkus may have been the best defensive player of all time.” The Lions former GM Russ Thomas called Butkus “an annihilating son of a bitch”. One writer, Bob Oates of the Los Angeles Times, who covered football since 1939, picked Butkus as the greatest player of all time. Of Butkus being the greatest, he writes, “Most people will choose an offensive player, but Dick Butkus is the player I think of first. In his prime, he came closer to being a dominating player week in and week out than anybody I’ve ever seen. He dominated at all times and was always ready to play. He also played an important position, and the way he played it was something else. But here’s my most important factor: If you mention someone else, I’ll find a weakness. I can’t find any weaknesses in Dick Butkus.”

NFL Film’s Steve Sabol is in agreement. He calls Butkus a “force of unmanageable proportions” and “moby dick in a goldfish bowl”. Sabol elaborates that [Butkus’] “career as the middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears stands as the most sustained work of devastation ever committed on a football field by anyone, anywhere, anytime.”

I’ve watched films of Butkus. He was a huge linebacker for the era he played -6 foot 3 and 245 pounds. He crushed ball carriers. He tackled like he was blocking. Back in the day, teams refused to run up the middle, off guard, knowing #51 was there. Dirty Dick Butkus. The man didn’t tackle ball carriers, he punished them. There’s a clip on YouTube, he nearly kills Lions HOF TE Charlie Sanders. Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBumQdwc-tE&feature=related or, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4L8bDZbPS1g&feature=related

Early in Urlacher’s career I watched a game with my dad. The Bears were playing the Lions. Back then the Lions had a tough FB from Nebraska by name of Cory Schlesigner. He kicked Urlacher’s ass all over that field. My dad responded, “Urlacher couldn’t wear Butkus’ jock strap.” Since then I’ve watched countless games where runners go straight up the gut over Urlacher. My dad would’ve exclaimed, “That… THAT would never have happened with Butkus in the middle.”

Recently the NFL and a panel of sport analysts, coaches and writers voted on the 100 greatest players of all time. Butkus was voted #10.

I wish I could remember that game in ’72, but I can’t.

These guys now —No heart. Big money. It’s interpretation of football. Just like horror film re-makes. It’s synthetic.

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

http://top100.nfl.com/

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/steve_sabol/07/16/mmqb/index.html

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