With the NFL Draft coming to Chicago for the first time, Bears Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus had occasion to look back on his own draft experience, which could have ended with him as a member of the Denver Broncos.

Butkus and Gale Sayers were members of the 1965 draft class, right in the middle of the battle between the NFL and the still-developing American Football League. The Kansas City Chiefs made an unsuccessful try to sign Sayers, who played at Kansas, and drafted Sayers with the No. 5 pick of the first round of the AFL Draft.

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Meanwhile, the Broncos were making their play for Butkus, to the point of showing more outward interest in Butkus than his hometown team, the Bears. The Broncos had traded their first-round pick in the AFL Draft to the New York Jets but wanted to take Butkus with the first pick (ninth overall) of the second round.

“My draft experience was, I didn’t have one, I think,” Butkus said via conference call on Tuesday. “You didn’t get the exposure that you get today. I was in New York for one of the All-American weekends and they had the draft back in December.”

Butkus came up from Champaign and the University of Illinois on Friday. Folks from the Broncos were waiting, as were the Bears at their offices in downtown Chicago. Butkus didn’t think much about the Bears as headed off to New York.


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But word was seeping out that the Bears intended to draft Butkus, a consensus All-American at Illinois

“That floored me because they’d never made any contact before,” Butkus said. “Saturday morning, sure enough, I was drafted by the Bears.”