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Remembering Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Hall of Fame NFL linebacker Dick Butkus has died. He was 88 years old. During his time with the Chicago Bears, he was known for his hard-hitting tackles, and he was not shy about embracing that reputation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DICK BUTKUS: I want to just let them know that they've been hit, and when they get up, they don't have to look to see who it was that hit him. It shouldn't be any puzzle. When they come to, they got to say, well, it must have been Butkus that got me.

SUMMERS: Butkus died earlier today at his home in Malibu, Calif., according to his family. Here to tell us more about Butkus's career and what he meant to the city of Chicago is WBEZ sports contributor Cheryl Raye-Stout. She's at a Blackhawks game right now and took a break from that action to join us. Hi, Cheryl.

CHERYL RAYE-STOUT, BYLINE: Hi, Juana. How are you doing?

SUMMERS: I'm well. Thanks for being here. Cheryl, can you just start by telling us what kind of impact did Butkus have on the game of football?

RAYE-STOUT: He was an animal. I mean, if you could describe one word, it'd be animal. He was the most physical, dominating middle linebacker in NFL history. He would do anything to make a tackle, do anything to force a fumble. And he would bite you if he had to. He was just that type of player. And he was renowned in Chicago because he was a Chicago standard. He was everything in football glory and in Chicago glory. He was the one.

SUMMERS: I mean, he's kind of synonymous with the Chicago Bears. But what can you tell us about how he specifically changed the linebacker position?

RAYE-STOUT: Well, the thing was, is he followed the footsteps of Bill George, another really good linebacker. But he became - what Dick Butkus did is he became notorious for being someone that would do anything, anything at all, to make a tackle, to force the ball out of the opposing player's arms, to go after the quarterback. He did things that nobody had done before. He would bite. He would claw. He would scratch. He did anything. And he was reckless with his body, and that's why his body kind of broke down at the end of his career.

SUMMERS: I'm a Midwesterner, so I understand just how much sports mean to the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago. What does his death, what does his legacy mean for a city like Chicago that loves its athletes and its team so very much?

RAYE-STOUT: The thing about Dick is that he grew up in the Roseland neighborhood in Chicago. He was a product of CV High School. He was a two-time all-American at the University of Illinois. You're talking about somebody that his blood, sweat and tears was here in Chicago. And when he played for the Bears, he played for George Halas. He was the owner and the coach, his first coach for the first few years. So he embodied everything about Chicago. And the interesting thing is his last game here was in Chicago at the Bears-Packers game to open the season. That's a perfect fitting for him to have that last game here in Chicago.

SUMMERS: I want to ask you, do you have a favorite play from Dick Butkus on the football field?

RAYE-STOUT: You know, it was anything he did. It was like - it was one compilation of everything that you wanted to see. He just went after players and went after it so hard. And, you know, it's almost anything he did. Any game, you didn't know what was going to happen, but you knew he was going to make a play.

SUMMERS: And what about his life after football? What was that like?

RAYE-STOUT: Well, he went on to television, and he did commercials. He did a TV show. He was somebody that did an awful lot of television broadcasting. And he was in radio. He was somebody that had quite a career afterwards and was very well known for that.

SUMMERS: That's Cheryl Raye-Stout, sports contributor at WBEZ. Cheryl, thank you.

RAYE-STOUT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEAR DOWN, CHICAGO BEARS")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing) Bear down, Chicago Bears. Make every play clear the way to victory. Bear down, Chicago Bears. Put up a fight with a might so fearlessly. We'll never forget the way you thrilled the nation with your T-formation. Bear down, Chicago Bears. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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