Bears

Bears Classics: Dick Butkus profiles the standard for MLB greatness

Bears Classics: Dick Butkus profiles the standard for MLB greatness

The history of pro football is replete with seminal influences, individuals who changed the game with their play, coaching or other means. Appropriately for a series headlined "Bears Classics," on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 9:30 p.m. CSN will chronicle the life and career of Butkus — the man who did not create the position of middle linebacker, but effectively defined it after taking the job away from Bill George, who in fact had created the position in 1954 when, as a middle guard in a traditional 5-2 front, he stood upright and changed an area of football forever.

But when Butkus ran onto the field for his first practice after being drafted third overall in the 1965 draft, former Bears teammate and wide receiver Johnny Morris told a friend, “You could almost feel a chill come over the field. Bill [George] knew his time was done.”

The “story” of Butkus is almost anecdotal. As the saying goes in theater, “action is character,” and nowhere would that resonate truer than Butkus, after whom Sylvester Stallone fittingly named his 140-pound bullmastiff in “Rocky.”

In the course of compiling and writing “Tales from the Chicago Bears Sidelines” some years back, I was fortunate enough to come across some of those “actions” that went into the Butkus “character:”

The Bears had a lobby display of their Hall of Fame players, with stories. To wit: Minnesota Vikings running back Dave Osborne had once been annihilated by Butkus on an ill-fated attempted sweep. Osborne was asked after the game what had happened to his blocker on the play. “I don’t know,” Osborne said. “Maybe Butkus ate him.”

[SHOP: Buy a Dick Butkus retro jersey]

Gale Sayers, drafted by the Bears with the No. 4 pick, right after Butkus, was asked by a teammate who the toughest guy Sayers had ever played against. Sayers didn’t answer, just pointed out toward the field: No. 51.

Butkus fury was not reserved for players only. Longtime NFL official Norm Schacter made a call that incensed Butkus, who began raging and finger-pointing in Schacter’s face. Finally Schacter’d had enough.

“Butkus,” Schacter warned, “if you don’t get your finger out of my face, I am going to bite your damn head off!”

Butkus stormed off but not before snarling back, “If you do, you’ll have more brains in your stomach than you do in your head!”

Pittsburgh Steelers center Ray Mansfield recalled Butkus destroying the Steelers’ special teams: “He knocked out L.C. Greenwood on a punt, and he knocked out Warren Bankston, who was a fullback and very good special-teams player,” Mansfield said. “I remember Warren coming over and crying, ‘I don’t know who I am!”

He was not alone.

“Dick was an animal,” said Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones. “I called him a maniac. A stone maniac. He was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital.”

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

trubisky-1114.jpg
USA TODAY

Mitchell Trubisky establishing durability standard; Bears not quite taking shots back at John Fox

Probably bad luck to mention this:

Mitchell Trubisky’s start last Sunday against the Detroit Lions was his 21st in a row, passing Jay Cutler (20) on the list of most consecutive starts by a Bears quarterback in the past 40 years. Among quarterbacks since George Halas retired, Trubisky can pass Vince Evans’ 26 (1980-81) and match Jim Harbaugh’s 28 (1991-92) if he starts the remaining 2018 games, but will need next season to catch Bob Avellini’s 42 (1975-78).

*                          *                          *

If there was an underlying frustration in the wake of John Fox being ousted as Bears coach, it might best be described as a shadow of disappointment at what might have been. Or should have been.

“This may sound weird,” said left tackle Charles Leno, “but with the guys we had last year, moving on to this year, you knew the culture was changing. We just had to click. We have got a great group of guys in here, I'm talking all across the defense, all across the special teams. Great group of guys. We just needed an extra push.

“Matt [Nagy] brought this.”

Leno is qualified to render an opinion. He has been through three head coaches in five NFL seasons, drafted under Marc Trestman, becoming a starter under Fox, and then came this year under Matt Nagy. Meaning: Leno was inside Halas Hall when the organizational culture plummeted under an offensive coach, started to improve under a defensive coach, then stalled and now has undergone a culture re-launch.

Whether the culture has changed with winning, or the winning is a reflection of the change in culture is largely academic to a team that is 6-3 after a second three-game win streak in its season. But the winning has produced – and resulted from – a buy-in that was absent on the offense under Dowell Loggains the past two seasons.

“We got the right head guy in here,” Trubisky said. “Coach Nagy is definitely leading the charge and we just have the right guys in our locker room to change the culture around.

“Just the belief and the trust in each other and coming to work every day, putting the work in and then just going and executing it on Sunday to be able to produce wins. It's a great vibe around the building now. The culture has definitely changed and there's a better vibe around the city in how people view the Bears and how they see us.

*                          *                          *

So-what award?

How much Trubisky knows about Georgetown coaching legend John Thompson, or the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, is difficult to pick up in a press conference. But the young quarterback subscribes to some of their thinking.

Thompson placed zero stock in awards that were voted on, vs. something that was won. Kipling’s poem “If” offered a guide to some level-headed thinking, famously noting that:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
         Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
         But make allowance for their doubting too… .

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
         And treat those two impostors just the same…

…you’ll be a Man (or NFL quarterback), my son.”

Trubisky on Wednesday was awarded the honor of NFC offensive player of the week, the week after he was roundly ripped by certain national NFL writers. He wasn’t particularly phased by the negative and he wasn’t especially interested in the positive, either.

“I don’t know, really,” Trubisky said. “You get recognized, it’s cool, but people talked so bad about me last week, so why should this week be any different?

“So I got recognized for playing well."

Cody Parkey's practice at Soldier Field attracted news helicopters

Cody Parkey's practice at Soldier Field attracted news helicopters

If there was any doubt that the Bears are the most popular team in Chicago, allow the events of Wednesday to serve as further evidence.

After hitting the upright an astonishing four times in Sunday's win against the Lions, Bears kicker Cody Parkey practiced at Soldier Field Wednesday night. That's not the crazy part.

The Bears kicker taking to Soldier Field to practice on a weeknight drew multiple news helicopters. Both WGN and ABC 7 got footage of a kicker practicing.

Earlier in the week, Parkey said practicing at Soldier Field "can't hurt." Now that he went through with it, we can find out if he thought the extra reps ahead of Sunday night's game against the Vikings were worth it.

Who knows how this Bears this season will end, but the Bears are certainly back in the spotlight of the Chicago sports scene.