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Butkus was one mean Bear
Murray story archive
Monday, December 10
Updated: June 28, 9:55 AM ET
By Jim Murray
Special to ESPN.com
Editor's note: This column originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on October 5, 1971.
Dick Butkus is one of the leading pass receivers of the National Football League. He led the entire Chicago Bears' wide receivers in passes caught Sunday against the Rams at the Coliseum. He caught two footballs on the fly and one on the ground.
Butkus has 19 lifetime receptions, which is remarkable since he wasn't the primary receiver -- or even the secondary -- on any of them. Roman Gabriel completed 15 passes against the Bears Sunday -- four to Josephson, three to Snow, two each to Rentzel and Ellison, one to Smith, one to Masslowski and two to Butkus.
Butkus recovered his 18th career fumble in the second quarter, and four plays later, the Bears had scored their only points of the day, 3. He is the nearest thing to an offense the Chicago Bears have. Only the quarterback gets his hands on the football more than Dick Butkus.
I though I would go down to the locker room Sunday to interview this All-Pro wide receiver of the Bears, find out how he ran his patterns, what moves he put on the defenders (anyone moving into Butkus' zone hoping to catch a football has to be classified as a defender).
I expected, of course, the conservation to be in sign language, and I brought a stalk of bananas, my bush hat, an elephant gun, and scribbled my will on the back of an envelope. It is inadvisable to approach Dick Butkus on the heels of a 17-3 loss in anything less than a reinforced Land Rover with a white hunter, armed, aboard.
They say Fay Wray locks herself in her room when Butkus comes to town. And when he hits New York, the Army surrounds the Empire State Building while the Air Force buzzes it. Other players play in a face mask, with Butkus, it's a muzzle.
First of all, I'm happy to report it can talk. The rumor going around that Dick Butkus went through college on a vine, or that he was discovered by a scout for Tarzan picture is not true. Neither is the report that he dresses by himself because his fur makes his roommate sneeze.
I know it can talk because when I knocked on its dressing room it said clearly, "fuzzandblurkandgetthefreakouttahere!"
I went over to safety man Ron Smith's cubicle. "If I come flying out of there," I said, pointing to Butkus' locker, where shoulder pads, helmets, socks and cleated shoes came flying through the air accompanied by screams of rage, "will you call for a fair catch?"
Smith grinned. "He'll be all right as soon as he has his couple cups of blood," he soothed. "You see, he hasn't had his quarterback today yet."
"Does he shower or just lick himself clean?" I asked.
"Listen," said Smith, "I knew Butkus when I was a sophomore at Wisconsin and he was at Illinois and he was mean then and he was still mean as of a few minutes ago. He chews cement and spits out sidewalk."
I tapped on his cage again. "Bleepandfreakandblurpandcrockandchickandcreep!" it roared. "Cantcha wait till I get dressed?!"
He came out of the shower a few minutes later. Mighty Joe Young would have run screaming up a tree. I gave a nervous laugh.
"I didn't recognize you without a quarterback under your arm," I joked feebly. Butkus glared. He never smiles.
"Listen, did you see what they've done out there with their little fairy plays? Those little end-around tippy toes, that chicken-trip stuff and then those twerps sneak back on you, those little elves give you a clip, and those bleep-censored officials say 'one more word out of any of you and it's 15.' You call that football?! If I came out here for a dance, I'd have worn pumps. Lemme comb my hair, fer cryin' out loud!"
A moment later, the defensive genius of the Chicago Bears, the last Monster of the Midway, stalked out with that rolling gait of his like a charging rhino. "Hey Butkus, yourself at home! Eat somebody!" "Hey, Butkus, do they let your cage on the airplane with the rest of the people?" "Hey, Butkus, do they bring your food on a plate or on a rope?"
Butkus just glared. "Bleepandfleepandtwerpandfagandbagand," he growled. "Girls' football!"
Someone nudged me in the ribs. "You're lucky he's in a good mood today," he said.
This column originally appeared in The Los Angeles Times. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Jim Murray, the long-time sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, won the Pultizer Prize for commentary in 1990. He died Aug. 16, 1998.