Tomorrow I have the privelige and honor of attending the 2010 Chicago Bears homo opener thanks to Dan and Carl.
Attending an NFL regular season game always meant so much to me. In modern times it is the only entertainment event that comes closest to barbaric gladiator contests held during the Roman Empire. It is organized mayhem and physical violence. Blood is spilled, bones are broken and injuries may end a career. It is a conquest. It is one army against another. Strategies and tactics. Nothing beats watching it live.
When the Bear season starts it always brings back memories of Butkus.
My first live Bear game was in 1974 at the old Soldier Field, Bears v. Saints. Archie Manning played. The Bears won but I don’t remember the score. Tickets were hard to come by back then and the scalping business was not legit. My tickets came from corporate vendors and salesmen. No way could I afford a season pass and even if I could the waiting list was about ten years.
Prior to that, I watched the games (usually with my dad) on CBS in front of the old Zenith. There was this one Bear player I would glue my eyes to when he was on the field and that was Dick Butkus. I regret not seeing Butkus play in person.
To me, Walter Payton may have been the Greatest Bear but Dick Butkus was the Ultimate Bear of all time. Because of youtube I can watch Dick in action anytime I wish. On the eve of the 2010 Chicago Bears homo opener, here is my Ultimate Bear player of all time.
I love the comment from John Facenda of NFL Films, "He was Moby Dick in a goldfish bowl."
A few years ago I heard Dick being interviewed on a pre game radio show. He was asked his opinion of Brian Urlacker. He liked Brian’s athleticism, quickness and his ability to be where the ball was. His one criticism of Urlacker was that Brian tackles, but he never punishes. In Dick’s world, he not only tackled a player, his intent was to run right through them. Hitting was never enough for Dick, punishment and the residual fear and intimidation he instilled in the opposing offense was. It worked. The only other defensive player who came close to Butkus (my observation) was Jack Lambert. Lawrence Taylor was a great linebacker and because the national sports media has their HQ on the east coast they adore him, often referring to LT as the best of all. I disagree. Singletary was also one of the greats, but he was no Butkus.
When I attended a Chicago art school back in ’72 my best friend was another student who’s father was the head of Wilson Sporting Goods. Because of his connections my friend Lee was a Chicago Bears locker room and sideline assistant, a ball-boy if you will during the 60’s.
Lee was allowed to attend player film sessions when Halas would run the projector and preview the upcoming opponent. During each of the upcoming opponent’s offensive sets from the previous week Lee claimed that Halas would stop the projector immediately before the ball was snapped. Halas would yell out, “Call the play, Buffone!” Buffone would guess. Then he would yell, "Obradovich!" OB would take a guess. Then the old man would yell, "Butkus, call the play!"
More often than not it was Butkus who would predict what play the opposing offense was going to run. Lee claimed that Butkus rarely failed to predict the offensive play. Dick always seemed to know where the ball was going to be.
If you intuitively know your opponent’s next move they are in for a rough day and that is what gave Butkus a huge advantage. The physical punishment that followed came naturally.
During the mid 80’s there was a businessman’s luncheon each Monday in the main ballroom at the Hyatt Hotel on Wacker and Stetson near Michigan. The luncheon featured at least one broadcaster or journalist and three Bear players. I worked in the same complex, it was called Illinois Center back then.
A printing vendor would buy a table or two each seating ten guests and invited me a few times. The one I remember best featured Kevin Butler, Tom Thayer and Butkus the year after SBXX.
After lunch (and a few cocktails) they would show highlights of each player. Then the players one-by-one would speak and take questions. When the program was over we were allowed to go up and get autographs, shake hands, etc. Butkus nearly broke my hand. I was surprised how small he was. On television he appeared to be huge but he was almost my height but a bit wider in the shoulders. I just looked at him and said thanks. He looked at me and said you are welcome. It was a lump-in-throat time for me. That was it.
Since I have been blessed with a very good memory it is obvious that today’s NFL players are bigger, stronger and faster than the men who played in the 60’s. But what today’s players lack is the same drive, intensity and toughness those old boys had.
I say it’s because the coddled nature of today’s players. Smack talk and appearance go farther than performance. If a player is a decent performer, a smack talker and looks the look he’s the one who will get the attention on ESPN like Cinco Groucho or whatever wacky names they come up. Bringing that “street lifestyle” crap on to the field makes me nauseous.
But, whenever I feel like it there’s always youtube where I can go to watch how real men once played the game. Players with names like Dick. And Bubba.
Time to sit back, relax and strap it down. 2010 could be a long and possibly disappointing season for the Chicago Bears.
Tomorrow: Detroit 13 Bears 14.