CHICAGO – Dick Butkus tackled countless players during his Hall of Fame career with the Bears.
Now, Butkus is tackling important causes. He hosted the inaugural Chicago Sports Legacy Event on Saturday in a skybox suite at Soldier Field while thousands of fans enjoyed the Bears’ Family Fest practice on a perfect summer night.
To learn more about what Butkus is doing to promote youth coaches and encourage young athletes to make the right decisions, visit www.butkusfoundation.org.
The Bears’ all-time great sat down for a conversation about his foundation and his former team.
What should people know about this event?
Well, with the Butkus Foundation, we had meetings with the Blackhawks and the Bulls about instead of always honoring pro players, let’s get down to the bare facts.
Where does it really start? It starts with youth coaches, volunteer coaches, high school coaches.
We want them to set precedents for what teamwork is all about and to play for fun. I come across parents that say, you know, “little Johnny’s going to play in the NFL.” And he’s 11 years old. And I say, “I don’t want to bust your bubble, but little Johnny’s got a one-in-a-billion chance. Why don’t you let him play for fun?” I just remember all the coaches that I had in the city and all of that. They helped me build the foundation of what I ended up to be.
What makes a good youth coach?
I think someone that’s able to get the kids to enjoy whatever sport they’re doing. It’s a game, and play it as such, and have fun playing it. That’s the whole thing. Along the way, you learn how to be a good teammate and the sacrifices you’ve got to make for somebody else instead of this, “Me, me, me, I, I, I” world. Just have fun playing.
When you look at the Bears practicing below, how has this game changed?
The speed of it has changed. They talk about running the ball, but they’re throwing for records all of the time. For old timers, I think they’ve got, what, 22 days of training camp? They can’t have two double sessions in a row.
What do you think when you hear that?
(Chuckles) I think, “What the heck did we do so wrong by having six exhibitions and playing in every game and being at camp two weeks before that?”
So has the game changed for the better or for the worse?
I don’t know. For the buck, they’re getting a big bang out of it.
Is it strange to you that the Bears have an offensive minded head coach?
I think it’s maybe about time. Because, that’s the way it is. I mean, everybody swears up and down, “Oh, defense will win.” But we’ve had some pretty good defenses and we haven’t won. And I go back to ’85, broadcasting with Hub [Arkush]. Everybody talks about their great defense – and they were an outstanding defense – but shoot, they scored points. Maybe it’s because they had a lot of opportunities because of the defense.
I haven’t seen much of the Bears [this summer], but I know about [ Marc] Trestman and his history with quarterbacks in other places. He’s always done well with them. He just might be the guy for [Jay] Cutler. With an improved offensive line, I think they’ll become a threat for us on offense.
You’re a Hall of Fame linebacker. What do you think when you look down on the field and you don’t see No. 54?
Everything comes to an end. It’s sad the way it ended, supposedly. I don’t know the particulars, but he went away with a bad taste in his mouth, I guess. And when I look back, I did, too.
What was that like for you?
Well, you suddenly learn real quickly that it’s a business. I played nine [seasons], he played 13. Those injuries creep up. You still know where to go and everything, but it’s just kind of frustrating that you know you can make certain plays, but your body’s not enabling you to do that. Sometimes, you’ve got to face the music and think of it as a business. Hey, that’s life. Who said it’s fair?
No one will remember this if you’re wrong. How many wins do you predict for the Bears this season?
I think they may win 11 or 12. The only thing is, I think their division is going to be a lot tougher. Everybody is improving. You still have Green Bay. I do think the longer you have that offense on the field, it’s going to help our defense. We should have some good, close games.
When you were playing, I bet you didn’t mind taking a rest on the sidelines and watching the offense march down the field.
(Chuckles) Back then, I was about to sit down, and it was an interception or a fumble and I’d have to run back.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.