Dick Butkus has passed away at the age of 80. To honor this icon, we now re-publish the exclusive that we had with the middle linebacker extraordinaire in July of 2017 in three parts.
Part Three Dick Butkus Says He Doesn’t Know What the Hell Keeps the Bears Down
Dick Butkus simply does not hold back, nor should he. He’s got a lot more than “senior privilege” backing his right to conduct candid conversation, as he’s simply the greatest linebacker in football history. He’s a franchise cornerstone for two storied Land of Lincoln football clubs that sport the orange and blue, and he just can’t understand why both of them, the Chicago Bears and the Illinois Fighting Illini, can’t get to the top and stay there.
Speaking ahead of the inaugural Illini Athletics Hall of Fame gala (Butkus was a member of the very first class to be honored), he told a group of reporters his bold thoughts on the Illini football struggles.
When the Illini talk was over, we had an exclusive conversation with the namesake for the award given to the best linebacker at both the high school and collegiate level every season.
We talked Chicago Bears with the 74-year-old icon.
“I really don’t know what’s going on inside, but it really burns me that they’re not competitive,” Butkus said of his former NFL team.
“I don’t know what the hell it is.”
The Bears aren’t losing because of a reluctance to spend money, as evidenced by their paying Jay Cutler $22.4 million for the 2014 season, making him the highest paid individual player in the NFL that season. Dick Butkus referenced that contract while assessing what’s become of a once proud franchise.
“I don’t think you can use the excuse in the old days ‘oh they’re cheap, and they don’t pay for players;’ I don’t see that, not with what they gave Cutler for crying out loud.”
“I hope their scouting department has turned it around and that they have a goal of what they want to achieve, and maybe they did that with the drafting of the quarterback (Mitchell Trubisky); everybody was all ‘oooh, what did you take him for, but maybe Ryan (Pace, Bears General Manager) has some plans and maybe knows more about the situation than us fans?”
Coming off a 3-13 season, a new low for this generation of Chicago Bears fans took hold. Big, bold changes were needed, especially at the quarterback position.
Critics are quick to point out just how much Pace gave up in order to move up just one spot, to take Trubisky, but it’s something that had to be done to shake things up.
The Bears have just one playoff appearance in the past 11 years, and they have won a grand total of three postseason games since 1995.
It’s lean times for the franchise, and the current status quo inspired Butkus to flashback to the low points suffered by the franchise during his playing days.
He recalls a time that he spoke up to George Halas (another charter member of the Illini Athletics Hall of Fame), possibly the year after Papa Bear retired, but Butkus doesn’t remember for certain; but the linebacker recalls thinking the famed Bears and Illini Coach was going to punch him over what he said that day.
Dick Butkus went into his Halas’ office and told him: “You know what – I don’t think you really want to win here, and I thought he was going to reach over and really take a poke at me.
And he said ‘what do you mean?’ I said look who’s in the Super Bowl, Miami and Dallas, two expansion teams, and you’re the one who started the bullshit 50 years ago. Look at us! What are we doing here?”
Butkus then reminisced about how and why the same franchise that dominated the 1940s, and won the NFL title in 1963 had severely declined during the end of the Halas era.
“We were the franchise that started it all, c’mon! They were using computers when I was playing, the print-outs of big sheets and stuff. I guess he was just so loyal to a fault that it slipped away,” Butkus said of Halas.
I think the first big mistake is he let George Allen go, look what he did with Washington. He loved the Bears, but he had an opportunity to take three or four jobs. With the Rams he tried to trade for me every year, Halas wouldn’t do it.
Allen, a Chicago Bears Assistant Coach from 1958-65, left the Bears to Coach the Los Angeles Rams in 1966. He won NFL Coach of the Year the following season, and then claimed the award again in 1971 while leading the Washington Redskins.
In summarizing the Bears consistent ineptitude, Butkus concluded: “It’s embarrassing. I don’t give a damn (about) the draft or whatever; there’s no reason we should be in this situation, one of the best franchises.”
These days Butkus keeps busy with the Dick Butkus Foundation, as well as a cardiovascular wellness center in Orange County, California. His first and foremost cause celebre is getting steroids out of sports.
Dick Butkus and his son Matt formed the I PLAY CLEAN program in 2006 ago to educate and encourage high school students to make the right choice of playing clean, rather than resorting to illegal and dangerous steroids and performance enhancing products.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He’s written for numerous publications, including the New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune. He regularly appears on NTD News and WGN News Now. Follow the website on Twitter and Instagram.