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Butkus grateful to have played close to home

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ROSEMONT, Ill. – There may be no better example of a local boy who made good than Dick Butkus.

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, he starred at Chicago Vocational High School and the University of Illinois before becoming a Hall of Famer with the Bears. Butkus played all eight of his NFL seasons with the Monsters of the Midway from 1965-73 and remains one of the most popular players in the franchise’s illustrious history.

“It’s kind of a unique position because I don’t think many players actually have done that,” Butkus told ChicagoBears.com at the Bears100 Celebration in Rosemont. “I feel very lucky. My parents got to see probably 95 percent of the games that were in Chicago, so it was good for my family and I liked it.”

Butkus was selected by the Bears with the third pick in the 1965 NFL Draft, one spot ahead of longtime teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Gale Sayers. The middle linebacker was also chosen in the first round of the AFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. But he opted to sign with his hometown team and the more established league.

“Playing for someone who was involved in football since I can remember, who’s better to play for than a guy like George Halas that started it all?” Butkus said. “I just felt that everything happened for a reason.”

Butkus immediately emerged as a star. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first eight NFL seasons and was a six-time first-team All-Pro. The Chicago native was named to the NFL All-Decade Team for both the 1960s and 1970s and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979 in his first year of eligibility. 

Butkus was known as a ferocious defender who played with a potent combination of intimidation, aggression and hostility.

“If I had a choice, I’d sooner go one-on-one with a grizzly bear,” Packers running back MacArthur Lane once said. “I pray that I can get up after every time Butkus hits me.”

Looking back, Butkus doesn’t think there was anything special about the level of intensity he played with.

“I thought that was the way that everybody should have played,” Butkus said. “But I guess they didn’t because they were claiming that I had a special way of playing.

“You try to intimidate the person that you’re playing against and hit him hard enough so that sooner or later he’s going to start worrying about getting hit and forget about holding the ball. If it stood out, I guess no one else was doing it as much.”

Interestingly, the most memorable moment of Butkus’ career did not occur on defense. It came late in a 1971 game against the Redskins when the Bears were attempting an extra point to snap a 15-15 tie. Bobby Douglass scrambled to recover a bad snap, rolled to his left and lofted the ball into the end zone to Butkus, who caught the pass to give the Bears a thrilling 16-15 victory.

“Earlier in the game a shoe or something got through my mask and hit me in the eye,” Butkus said. “During the course of the game it started swelling, like a boxer.”

With his depth perception affected by the injury, Butkus leaped to catch the ball—even though he didn’t have to.

“I jumped, but I could have just stood there and caught it,” he said with a smile. “When I saw the film I thought, ‘What am I jumping for?’ It was right there.”

Butkus has enjoyed reminiscing about that play and many other memories at this weekend’s Bears100 Celebration. As you’d expect, he received a thunderous ovation when he was introduced at Friday night’s opening ceremonies.

“It feels special because the fans here are pretty knowledgeable,” Butkus said. “It’s a reinforcement that I must have been doing the right things because people notice that and it seems like I’m always welcome when I come back.”

Get an exclusive look at the first day of legacy panels, autograph signings, and other activities from Bears100 Celebration Weekend featuring current players and Bears legends.

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