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L E’s Stories – “The Original Monster Of The Midway” – Our Tribute To Bears Legendary LB Dick Butkus

Watching professional football from 1965 to 1973 with Pops and Los Tres Hermanos (3 brothers) provided an image of a human monster who played middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears….which left a lasting impression of how the game was to be played….rough, tough and intimidating….especially on the defensive side of the ball….and nobody provided that image quite like Chicago Bears middle linebacker Dick Butkus….for he was imposing beyond compare….and was a favorite around Bone Daddy’s house.  The truth be known, Dick Butkus was intimidating and imposing to the fan watching him play on television….so, we can only imagine what it was like being on the field with him….especially as an opposing running back or quarterback…..as he cast a large shadow over his opposition….while leaving a lasting impression with anyone who saw him play….which provides the stimulus for this story about the original “Monster of the Midway”.                                                                                                                                   

NFL – 2010 – NFL’s 100 Greatest Players – # 10 Chicago Bears LB Dick Butkus

Dick Butkus is an American former football player, sports commentator and actor…..who played professional football as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL) from 1965 to 1973…..when throughout those nine seasons, he was invited to eight Pro Bowls….named 1st team to the All-Pro six times….and was twice recognized by his peers as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year….cuz Dick Butkus was renowned as a fierce tackler and for the relentless effort with which he played….and is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most intimidating linebackers in pro football history.

 

NFL – 1965 To 1973 – NFL Films – Dick Butkus: “Hard Nosed Old School Football”
 

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Butkus played his entire football career in his home state….which began at  Chicago Vocational High School…..then as a college football player at the University of Illinois….where he was a linebacker and center for the Fighting Illini….and a two-time consensus All-American….as he led the Illini to a Rose Bowl victory in 1963….as well as being deemed the most valuable player in the Big Ten Conference….and in 1964 he was named college football’s Lineman of the Year by United Press International (UPI).   In his first year on the varsity team, he was named to the 1962 All-Big Ten Conference football team as the third-team center by the Associated Press (AP) and second-team center by United Press International (UPI).  In 1963, Illinois compiled an 8–1–1 record and defeated Washington  in the 1964 Rose Bowl. Butkus was named the team’s most valuable player for the season, and was awarded the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as the Big Ten’s most valuable player.  He was a unanimous choice as a center for the 1963 College Football All-America Team….while earning first-team honors from all seven major selectors.  As a senior in 1964, Butkus was named the team’s co-captain along with safety George Donnelly.  UPI deemed Butkus college football’s Lineman of the Year for 1964….and he was named the player of the year by the American Football Coaches Association and The Sporting News…..and for the second consecutive season he was deemed the Illini’s most valuable player.  He was chosen for the 1964 All-America team by five of the six major selectors.  In a cover story for Sports Illustrated that season, sportswriter Dan Jenkins remarked, “If every college football team had a linebacker like Dick Butkus of Illinois, all fullbacks soon would be three feet tall and sing soprano.”  Butkus also finished sixth in Heisman Trophy balloting in 1963 and third in 1964….which were rare results both for a lineman and a defensive player.  According to statistics kept by the university, he completed his college career with 374 tackles….97 in 1962….145 in 1963….and 132 in 1964.  He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.                                                                                                                                                                     

NCAA Football – 1964 – Big Ten Icons Rose Bowl Special –  Illinois Vs Washington – With MVP  C/LB Dick Butkus

NCAA Football – 2013 – Big Ten Network Special – Stanley Jackson + Mike Hall Sit Down With Dick Butkus About His Illinois Days

 

NCAA Football – 2013 – Big Ten Network Special – Stanley Jackson + Mike Hall Sit Down With Dick Butkus About Memories Of The 1964 Rose Bowl

Butkus was drafted by the Bears as the 3rd overall pick in the 1965 NFL Draft…..where he soon established himself as a ball hawk with his penchant for forcing turnovers.  In his NFL career, he intercepted 22 passes, recovered 27 fumbles (a record when he retired) and was responsible for causing many more fumbles with his jarring tackles.  His tackling ability earned him both admiration and trepidation from opposing players…..and according to Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones,  Butkus “was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital.”  In 2009, the NFL Network named Butkus the most feared tackler of all time.  Butkus is credited with having defined the middle linebacker position….and is still viewed as the “gold standard by which other middle linebackers are measured.”  His rookie contract was worth $200,000. Along with fellow future Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, Butkus was one of three first-round picks for the Bears in the 1965 NFL Draft. The pick they used for Butkus had been acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers.                                        

NFL – 2012 – A Football Life Special – The Parallel Careers Of Dick Butkus And Gayle Sayers

Succeeding Hall of Famer Bill George at middle linebacker, Butkus made an immediate impact as a rookie….as he established himself as a ball hawk by intercepting five passes….while recovering six opponents’ fumbles….and he was also credited with having forced six fumbles.  Against the New York Giants on November 28th, he intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble….and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Week by the AP for the first of four times in his career.  He finished third in balloting for the AP’s rookie of the year award behind Sayers and Ken Willard of the San Francisco 49ers….with AP sportswriter Jack Hand remarking that Butkus would have certainly won if there was a separate award for defenders.  He was named a first-team All-Pro by the AP and was invited to his first of eight straight Pro Bowls.  In 1966, Butkus was named the second-team middle linebacker on the All-Pro teams of the AP, UPI, Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA), and New York Daily News, with each selector placing him behind Ray Nitschke of the Green Bay Packers.  He reclaimed the first-team spot on the UPI and NEA teams in 1967, the AP team in 1968, and the Daily News team in 1969, all of which he occupied through the 1970 season.

NFL – 1965 To 1973 – NFL Legends Film – Dick Butkus: “The Master Of Ferocity And Intimidation”                             

Butkus scored the first points of his career on November 9, 1969, when he tackled Steelers quarterback Dick Shiner in the end zone for a safety. He also recorded 25 tackles in the game, and for his efforts was recognized as the NFL Defensive Player of the Week by the AP.  That 38–7 win for the Bears was their only one of the season; they finished with a 1–13 record, which was the worst in franchise history. Additionally, Butkus’ five-year contract had reached its end. A number of Bears players, including Butkus, expressed interest in being traded or cut by the team, but he signed a multi-year contract extension prior to the 1970 season to remain in Chicago.  The contract raised his salary from $50,000 per year to around $80,000 to $100,000 per year.  Despite the ineptitude of the Bears as a team, Butkus developed a reputation around the league as one of its best players.  In both 1969 and 1970, he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the NEA….which was voted on by NFL players.  He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in September 1970 with the caption, “The Most Feared Man in the Game” A panel of NFL coaches that year named Butkus the player they would most prefer to start a team with if they were building one from the ground up.                                                                                          

NFL – 1965 To 1973 – Special Highlights – Dick Butkus: “Hardest Hits”                                                                                                     

Prior to the 1971 season, Butkus underwent preventive surgery on his right knee…..resulting from a torn ligaments in high school….but was able to continue playing due to strong muscles compensating for the injury.  In 1971, he recorded 117 tackles and four interceptions….which led the Bears in both statistics…. plus, he scored a point in the closing minutes of a game against the Washington Redskins on November 14th….with the score was tied at 15….as the Bears had lined up to kick an extra point….when the snap went over the head of holder Bobby Douglass….who then raced back to retrieve the ball and looked to pass it….and there was Butkus, who was playing as a blocking back….as he ran into the end zone and leapt to catch the pass for the winning score…..which Butkus later called the play his favorite of his career.  Despite the statistical output, for the first time since 1966, Butkus was not named to a major All-Pro first team, instead earning 2nd team honors from the NEA and Pro Football Writers Association.                 

NFL – 1981 – NFL Films – “NFL’s Best Ever Professionals” – Chicago Bears LB Dick Butkus

Butkus sparked controversy in 1972 with the release of Stop-Action….which was a memoir describing the final week of the 1971 season…..afterr the Bears had lost their final five games of th season….and Butkus used the memoir as an outlet for his frustrations and grievances. In particular, he harshly criticized the Detroit Lions organization, saying, “I think they are a lot of jerks, from the owner, the general manager, the coach on down… If we were voting for a jerk team or organization they’d have my vote all the way.”  The Lions responded with a 38–24 win over the Bears in Week 3 of 1972.  After the game Lions linebacker Mike Lucci, whom Butkus had labeled a “crybaby”, denied that the book had any bearing on the game’s outcome, but told reporters, “Butkus should just keep his mouth shut and play football.” Butkus, who was notoriously surly with reporters, also denied any connection and accused the media of sensationalism…..when Bears teammate Gale Sayers later said he did not like the book, feeling Butkus was above such name-calling.  The season as a whole was another productive one for Butkus….who reclaimed the 1st team middle linebacker spot on the major All-Pro teams……and was invited to his final Pro Bowl.  Early in the first quarter against the Oilers in 1973….that’s when Butkus pounced on a fumble in the end zone….for the only touchdown of his career…..to which HoustonTE Mack Alston accused Butkus of intimidating the officials….saying he “grabbed the ball and started yelling ‘touchdown, touchdown,'”….after which “the officials looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and called it a touchdown.”  His season was cut short after nine games by a lingering right knee injury….which he had been playing through for years….but was further aggravated after it gave out in Week 5 against the Atlanta Falcons.  Prior to the 1974 season an orthopedic surgeon told him, “I don’t know how a man in your shape can play football or why you would even want to.”  The injury ultimately forced him to retire in May 1974 at age 31.                                                                                                                                                              

NFL – 1981 – NFL Films – Dick Butkus: “Monster Of The Midway”                                                                                 

Standing 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) tall and weighing 245 pounds (111 kg), Butkus was an exceptionally large linebacker during his era. …as this size was a common trait in his family….where all four of his brothers and his father each stood over six feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds…..plus, he was also diligent with his conditioning. ….ie: in high school he would push a car up and down a street to strengthen his legs….and in college he developed a routine of running at trees and dodging them to emulate avoiding blockers.  Despite his size, he also had the speed and agility to make tackles from sideline to sideline….as well as cover tight ends and running backs on pass plays.  Hall of Famer Bill George, whom Butkus succeeded as the Bears’ middle linebacker, said, “The first time I saw Butkus, I started packing my gear. I knew my Bear days were numbered. There was no way that guy wasn’t going to be great.”  At one point, Butkus gained a reputation as one of the best players on an otherwise bad Bears team in the late 1960’s during his tenure, the Bears won 48 games, lost 74, and tied 4.                                       

NFL – 1965 To 1973 – Special Highlights – Dick Butkus: “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor”                                             

Consistently cited as one of football’s meanest, toughest, and most feared players, Butkus was renowned for his intimidating profile and style of play.  He was known to snarl at the opposition prior to plays.  Quarterbacks would complain of Butkus biting them in pileups.  Lions tight end Charlie Sanders recalled Butkus poking him in the eyes with his fingers through his face mask.  He once intercepted a pass from Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton near the goal line….and instead of taking the ball into the end zone for an easy touchdown, he took aim at Tarkenton to run him over   When asked by a reporter if he was mean as the rumors suggested, Butkus replied, “I wouldn’t ever go out to hurt anybody deliberately. Unless it was, you know, important—like a league game or something.”  He played angry, often “manufacturing” things to make him mad….cuz he felt it gave him a competitive edge.  After the Bears lost to the Lions in their first match-up of 1969, Lions rookie running back Altie Taylor told reporters that Butkus was overrated…..when the next time the teams played that season, Butkus responded by chasing Taylor out of bounds after a play….while causing him to jump into the stands at Wrigley Field for safety.                                                                                                                                              

NFL – 2020 – NFL Films – Top 10 Most Feared Tacklers Of All Time – With # 1 Dick Butkus

Butkus became most noted for his tackling ability, and the ferocity with which he tackled opponents. He was named the most feared tackler of all time by the NFL Network in 2009.  Once during practice, he hit a metal football sled so hard that he crumpled it and left a piece of it dangling off.  “Tackling wasn’t good enough,” recalled former Bears defensive end Ed O’Bradovich. “Just to hit people wasn’t good enough. He loved to crush people.”  Butkus is credited with 1,020 tackles in his NFL career….while recovering 27 fumbles in his career….which was an NFL record at the time of his retirement.  One of his greatest strengths was his ability to rip the ball from a ball carrier’s hands…..albeit not an official statistic at the time, it has been noted that Butkus would certainly be one of the all-time leaders in forced fumbles.  USA Today called Butkus the “gold standard by which other middle linebackers are measured.”  Although not the creator of the middle linebacker position…..which is credited to his predecessor Bill George….. whereas Butkus is recognized as having defined the role.  He is also recognized for having set the benchmark for the success of Bears middle linebackers….which continued with Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher.  Hall of Fame running back Earl Campbell, known for his hard-hitting running style, cited Butkus as his hero growing up….which is just one more reasons for writing this story.                                                        

NFL – 1965 To 1973 – Special Highlights – “The Greatest Hits Of Bears LB Dick Butkus”                                              

After his university years, Butkus continued to receive recognition for his college career….as he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983…..while his # 50 jersey is one of only two retired by the Illinois Fighting Illini football program….with the other being the # 77 of Red Grange….and he was an inaugural inductee into the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016…..then Butkus was named to the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s All-Century Team in 1999….which was compiled to honor the best college players of the 20th century. In November 2017, Illinois announced it would erect a statue of Butkus on campus to overlook a future football performance center.

 

NCAA Football – 2017 – University Of Illinois Honors Dick Butkus, Red Grange & George Halas – With Dick Butkus Acceptance Speech

Butkus was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979….which was his first year of eligibility…..plus  the Hall’s voters also named him to the NFL’s 1960’s All-Decade Team….and 1970’s All-Decade Team…. while deeming him one of the best players of both decades. On October 31, 1994, the Bears retired  Butkus’s # 51 jersey….along with Sayers’s # 40 jersey during a ceremony at Soldier Field.  In 2004, a sculpture featuring Butkus, Halas, and seven other former Bears greats was unveiled at Soldier Field.  Butkus has been repeatedly ranked among the top players in NFL history…..after being named the 9th best player in NFL history by The Sporting News in 1999….the 10th best by the NFL Network in its The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players series in 2010….and the 8ht best by the New York Daily News in 2014….. plus in 2017, NFL senior analyst Gil Brandt ranked Butkus as the 3rd greatest linebacker of all time behind Derrick Thomas and Lawrence Taylor…..while also being selected the 70th greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN.  In 1994, he was named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team….which was compiled to recognize the best players of the NFL’s first 75 years as adjudged by NFL officials and media personnel.  In 2019, Butkus was named to the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.                                             

NFL – 1965 To 1973 – NFL Film Highlights – The Careers Of Dick Butkus And Gayle Sayers

In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando, Florida created the Butkus Award….which is given annually to the most outstanding linebacker at the high school, college, and professional levels as chosen by a nationwide panel of 51 coaches and sportswriters.  Butkus sued the Downtown Athletic Club for rights to the award in 2007, which it relinquished after a yearlong court battle. It has since been presented by the Butkus Foundation.  He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979….and his # 51 jersey is retired by the Bears.  Following his playing career, Butkus began careers in acting, sports commentary, and celebrity endorsement. He is active in philanthropy through the Butkus Foundation, which manages various charitable causes.                                                                                            

TV Ads – 1970 – Dick Butkus For Prestone Antifreeze

 

TV Ads – 1976 – Dick Butkus For Lite Beer From Miller

 

TV Ads – 1979 – Dick Butkus And Bubba Smith For Lite Beer From Miller

 

TV Ads – 1986 – Dick Butkus & Mike Ditka For “The Protector”

TV Ads – 1985 – Dick Butkus For Big Boy Elias Pasta Shops

As an homage, actor Sylvester Stallone named his pet Bullmastiff Butkus after the dog ate a security blanket. He decided to name him after “possibly the fiercest football player in history”.  The dog later starred alongside Stallone in the Rocky film series.  Since his career as a player, Butkus has become a celebrity endorser, broadcaster and actor….as he has appeared in films such as The Longest Yard (1974), Cry, Onion! (1975), Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976), Gus (1976), Superdome (1978),  Cracking Up (1983), Johnny Dangerously (1984), Hamburger: The Motion Picture (1986), The Stepford Children (1987),   Spontaneous Combustion (1990), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), Necessary Roughness (1991) and Any Given Sunday (1999)…..plus as a regular character on TV shows such as Blue ThunderMy Two DadsVega$ and Hang Time….in addition, he portrayed himself in both the critically acclaimed TV movie Brian’s Song (1971)…..and the 2002 comedy Teddy Bears’ Picnic.   Butkus endorsed Prestone, a brand of antifreeze, in a commercial during Super Bowl IV in 1970….while stating the tagline, “Because plugging holes is my business.” The ad marked the first highly successful celebrity endorsement in Super Bowl advertising…..then throughout the late 1970’s and early 1980’s…..that’s when Butkus appeared alongside fellow former NFL star Bubba Smith in a series of ads for Miller Lite….which were released to high acclaim. In 1985, he was a pitchman for Echo Tools, a producer of outdoor power equipment. In the 1990’s, Butkus promoted the “Qwik-Cook Grill”, a grill utilizing newspaper as its main fuel.                                                                                                                                                                                      

NFL & Movies – 2015 – Special – Dick Butkus: “From Canton To Hollywood”                                                        

In conclusion of my tribute to Dick Butkus…..and after watching a great deal of footage on the guy they called The Monster Of The Midway…..which has given me great confidence in saying that Butkus was truly the fiercest tackler to ever play the game of football….and although it is like cutting hairs when comparing Butkus, Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas and Ray Lewis as the greatest middle linebackers of all time…..there is no question that he was the most feared tackler of all time….plus, when you add to that the fact that Pops and Los Tres Hermanos grew up watching Da Bears with Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus ….it just gives me great pleasure to pen this tribute to one of the truly greatest NFL players in the history of the league.  Simply put, we are delighted to have a large number of videos in our ImaSportsphile library that provides all the evidence needed to substantiate his well deserved showcase in our video museum.             

NFL – 2013 – Yahoo Sports Angela Sun Interviews HOF Bears LB Dick Butkus – “Linebacker, Legend And Lifesaver” – Outside The Game

 

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