Yearned For Football Career
Butkus, who grew up with his blue-collar, Lithuanian family on the South Side of Chicago, wanted to play pro football by the fifth grade. He traveled out of the way to attend Chicago Vocational High School because its football coach, Bernie O'Brien, was a University of Notre Dame graduate. He was an all-state fullback on offense and downright nasty on defense. "He learned to strip the ball from runners while making a tackle, an art that served him well in the pros," Larry Schwartz wrote for the ESPN.com Web site.
Enamored as Butkus was with Notre Dame, however, he opted instead for the University of Illinois. Notre Dame at the time banned married players, and he was considering marriage to his high school sweetheart, whom he eventually married. In Illinois, Butkus saw an up-and-coming program run by new coach Pete Elliott. Butkus made clear why he was at Illinois. "If I was smart enough to be a doctor, I'd be a doctor," he said. "I ain't, so I'm a football player. They got me in P.E. (physical education)."