“I just loved the game:” Former Chicago linebacker Dick Butkus reminisces on Bears vs. Packers matchups
MILWAUKEE — The NFL’s oldest rivalry resumes Sunday, when the Green Bay Packers play the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. One of the toughest foes the Pack ever faced once said he never set out to hurt anyone deliberately, quote “unless it was, you know, important — like a league game or something.”
“If I didn’t feel I was quite up to snuff; If I caught anybody smiling on the field, that would get me going again,” said Dick Butkus.
As a Titanic Chicago Bears linebacker, Dick Butkus terrorized rivals from 1965 through ’73. Fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer, Deacon Jones, said Butkus didn’t want to just put you in the hospital, he wanted to put you in the cemetery!
Packers legend Paul Hornung, who’s also enshrined in the Hall, called the eight-time Pro Bowl pick the meanest son-of-a-(blank) he ever played against.
“That’s the way you had to play. I really didn’t have that hard a time developing that attitude; because even back then I would take home film and by the time game time comes around, I’ve been thinking about this all week,” Butkus said.
Butkus remembers the fierce battles his Bears had with the Packers in the 1960s and 70s.
“We played the Packers 18 times and we won 14. What was great, we weren’t that good of a team always but it was great playing the Packers because in the 60s they were the team,” said Butkus.
Especially because the coaches were legendary Hall of Famers, George Halas on one side — Vince Lombardi on the other.
“I remember Doug Atkins during Green Bay week, would tell the old man, we would work out at Wrigley Field and he would tell the old man, ‘Hey I think I saw a little flash. I think there’s someone up there with a camera.’ The old man would send someone up, he was probably doing the same thing in Green Bay,” Butkus said.
This Bear was a lion on the filed, but off it, Dick Butkus, is kind, gentle and giving to many charitable causes such as the Klumb Family Foundation’s annual Make-A-Wish Golf Outing at Geneva National last September.
“Who knows where I would be if it wasn’t for football — and I think it’s just payback,” Butkus said.
Now 74, Dick does that with the Butkus Award, given at the high school, college and professional levels for excellence on and off the field. And with his “I Play Clean” campaign, which educates high school students about the dangers of steroids, as a sports radio talk show host found out during a live interview — Dick Butkus goes as hard after causes close to his heart as he did opposing quarterbacks.
“He leads off by saying, ‘Well I know, Dick you’re against steroids but I don’t mind seeing baseball players take steroids because I like to see home runs.’ I said, ‘Well maybe I should get you introduced to the over two dozen parents I know that their sons and daughters committed suicide coming off that crap.’ And I just hung up on him.”
Fifteen years ago, Butkus found out he wasn’t indestructible: he had a quintuple bypass. Now, he has a wellness center in California.
He’d like to see all players get heart scans as well as fans. His desire is to raise enough money to make them free for everyone.
“That’s what we do now in Orange County. All players, all returning vets, all first responders, firemen, policemen, returning military get their scan free,” said Butkus.
Butkus knows he can make a difference off the gridiron, because of the difference he made on it. As for today’s NFL?
“The game is changing so much. It’s not the same game anymore and I don’t know, I don’t like it. And the money that they’re giving these people — they don’t have to workout with their pads two days in a row. Their antics, it’s not for me anymore, sorry to say,” said Butkus.
Agree or not, you know where you stand with Dick Butkus — and old #51 will never apologize for his fast and furious approach to football.
“I just loved the game, and I thought that’s the way to play it,” said Butkus.
Dick Butkus says he still gets the itch to play in just one more Packers vs. Bears game.
If you’d like information on the Butkus Foundation, CLICK HERE.