Ferocious Fixture For Bears
Butkus wasted no time making an impact. In his NFL debut in September, 1965, Butkus made eleven unassisted tackles against the San Francisco 49ers. Veteran Bill George, the Bears' middle linebacker the previous thirteen seasons, knew his Chicago days were numbered. "The second I saw him the field (at training camp), I knew my playing days were over," said George, who played but two games that season and ended his career with the Los Angeles Rams a year later.
The Bears in 1965 rebounded from three straight season-opening losses to win nine of their last eleven and finish 9-5. Butkus led Chicago in tackles, fumbles recovered and pass interceptions as the Bears allowed 104 fewer points over fourteen games than in 1964. Butkus's coach, George Halas, was one of the NFL's founders and liked the young player's primitive style.
He led Chicago in tackles for eight consecutive seasons, averaging 120 tackles and fifty-eight assists a year. He registered a career-best eighteen sacks in 1967. Over his nine seasons, he earned forty-seven takeaways-twenty-five fumble recoveries and twenty-two interceptions. Butkus even caught two extra points on offense after bungled snaps, one of them the winning play, a diving reception of a pass as Chicago defeated the Washington Redskins 16-15 in 1971. Butkus calls that the favorite play of his career. He never appeared in an NFL playoff game; the Bears were rebuilding during that era after their 1963 championship team had aged.
But ferocity, not statistics, defined Butkus, who stood at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds. "When I went out on the field to warm up, I would manufacture things to make me mad," he said. "If someone on the other team was laughing, I'd pretend he was laughing at me or the Bears. I'd find something to get mad about. It always worked for me." "Butkus was in the eye of the football hurricane on every play, and his primary intention was barbaric, but simple: Hurt somebody, anybody," Anthony Holden wrote on the Web site CBS SportsLine.com. "As long as Butkus gave you a teeth-rattling shot, he was happy." Butkus cashed in on his tough-guy image, endorsing antifreeze and shaving cream, among other products, on national TV.