"Quality Of The Game and Butkus II"



Quality of the Game and Butkus  PART II


By Dr. Ken 

Like most football fans of the 1950’s and ‘60’s, it was very easy to watch Dick Butkus in either college or with the Chicago Bears, and be mesmerized by his play. He seemed dangerous, capable of dishing out tremendous amounts of damage and for anyone to this day that has witnessed the highlights of his career from NFL Films, there was no doubt that this man could injure you on any play. He seemed perfectly suited both physically and in temperament for his position. In short, during the “Era Of The Middle Linebacker,” he could be anyone’s choice as the best. Others have maintained their supporters and certainly, they all have a case: Bill George, Joe Schmidt, Ray Nitschke, Chuck Bednarik, Tommy Nobis, Sam Huff, Willie Lanier, Jack Lambert, and lesser-known names like Les Richter all rank high on many lists of “the best” or “the greatest.”

I could never envision UT and Falcons great Tommy Nobis dancing after making a tackle


The evolution of defense that made a middle linebacker who could step up and stop the run or retreat and effectively drop into pass coverage many yards down the field produced big hitters who covered a lot of ground. Certainly, Dick Butkus earned a place among the very best but in reading the list of names above, keep in mind that what made these men great was an absolute dedication to mastering the fundamentals of the game of football. When they tackled, they tackled “through the man” and wrapped rather than trying to knock them off balance with a shoulder blow. Last month’s discussion noted just the opposite in today’s game, a decisive lack of fundamental football demonstrated in every contest and worse, the “look at me, ain’t I a tough guy” shake-and-bake dance that emphasizes what seems to be every tackle no matter how routine the play is. It is extremely difficult to imagine Dick Butkus, Willie Lanier, or Tommy Nobis making a tackle and then preening and dancing around as if electrodes were attached to their most vital areas.

I would think that anyone who observed Butkus at Illinois or with the Chicago Bears was taken by his ferocity. He seemed to play at a higher level of intensity than most, as if every tackle and worse, every missed tackle, truly meant something to him and his teammates. He never appeared to be playing for personal aggrandizement, just the joy of the game and for the purpose of allowing his team to win. If the expression “He was a man’s man as a football player” can be interpreted in the most literal fashion, Dick Butkus was an on-the-field “man’s man” in a game played by men.


After Dick retired, he spent time in the DeLand, Florida area. At the time, I was working for Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries outside of DeLand, in what was then the very small town of Lake Helen. I performed in a variety of capacities that included drill press operator, welding in the machine prototype shop and serving as a “model trainee” in the development of new equipment, tractor trailer driver and equipment installer, a trainer for the many pro athletes and bodybuilders who visited the complex, one of the “training dummies” used to impress the big time college and pro coaches who visited for the purpose of evaluating the equipment, and director of demolition and handy man for company owner Arthur Jones’ construction project on his mansion renovation. Though Nautilus was past the start up stage, we were still a relatively small company in the early 1970’s and numerous individuals filled multiple roles. It wasn’t my place to know what Dick Butkus’ exact responsibilities in the company were, but he was a personal friend of Arthur, assisted in a series of educational lectures and films about injury rehabilitation and proper exercise, and served as a company representative with many of the coaches.

Dick Butkus undergoing thermographic testing on his neck and upper back during exercise performance for Nautilus Sports Medical Industries


As his television, film, and product endorsement career later indicated, he was well spoken, personable, and much more than his public persona of “an animal.” In any conversation I had with Dick, and like some, I avoided him when possible at first and until I realized that his on-the-field demeanor was not necessarily his off-the-field demeanor, he was always pleasant and accommodating. This in no way reduced the aura he radiated that he could, if necessary, twist one’s head off the remainder of their body with short notice and what I soon realized, was that this seemed to be a family trait! There was only one Dick Butkus but there were other Butkus brothers.


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