The most fearsome man to ever play football is old enough to be called “old.”
Dick Butkus, the Hall of Fame linebacker who cracked skulls and raised ghosts for the Chicago Bears from 1965 to 1973, is now 70 years old. And he could still smash your face.
Butkus was a genuine Chicagoan having grown up on the South Side, (and thus, was actually a Chicago Cardinals fan) starring at Chicago Vocational High School and then becoming an All-American at the University of Illinois.
He was selected by his hometown Bears in the first round of the 1965 NFL draft along with running back and fellow future Hall of Famer Gale Sayers in what has to be the greatest first round, and possibly the greatest draft, any team has ever had. The Bears, however, never made the playoffs even once with those guys.
If you’re not familiar with Butkus or his legend it’s hard to relate just how revered and magical he is for cranky old Bears fans. He personified Chicago by being tough, testy, ethnic, blue-collar and charming in the same vein as a ’47 Hudson.
Just as some say there will never be another Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordan, Chicagoans of the 1960s and 70s cannot even conceive of a football player being better or tougher than #51. Ray Lewis? Please. Lawrence Taylor? Go play with the girls. Even the Bears superstars who have followed in Butkus’ defensive wake, guys like Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher, take a back seat to the man about whom NFL Films said, “played football with a religious fervor, with an unrelenting obsession not only to excel but to dominate and demoralize.”
Dick Butkus was friends with Bea Arthur.
Dick Butkus was born to play football in the mud, the snow, on hot coals and in the nightmares of halfbacks. Knee deep in muck and hands dripping with blood, Butkus was the epitome of what football was and should be.
Could Dick Butkus survive in today’s NFL of mega-athletes, pampered millionaires, strict rules, field turf and Mike Tirico? Probably not. After all, he’s 70.