Very sorry to see the passing of Dick Butkus, the Hall of Fame middle linebacker of the Chicago Bears. He was pure Chicago -- he played his entire career in Illinois. He grew up on the Chicago South Side, went to Chicago Vocational High School, attended college at the University of Illinois. And then played for the Chicago Bears.
When the Bears had Butkus and Gale Sayers (picked #3 & #4 in the very same 1965 draft! Man, what a draft that was...), the team was usually awful -- yet they were as great to watch as any Bear team...because of watching just those two. In fact, even with Sayers -- as graceful, remarkable and entertaining a runner to watch as I've seen -- Butkus is the only defensive player who's made me look forward to seeing the Bears (or any) team *without* the ball.
The quintessential Butkus play, that I saw often growing up was a runner getting the back, sweeping left with two blockers in front of him leading the way -- and then you'd see Butkus's body come flying in, knocking the two blockers aside, bursting through them and not only tackling the runner, but causing a fumble and recovering the ball.
Here's how great Butkus was: in 1969, the Chicago Bears only won one game, they ended the season 1-13. They were terrible. Yet Butkus won the NFL Award for best Defensive Player of the Year.
When ESPN did a special countdown on the 100 greatest NFL players of all-time during the NFL's 100th season, they named Dick Butkus #10. Despite playing on only two winning teams in his nine-year career (cut short by bad knees.) That's how great Butkus was.
It should be noted, too, that when college football gives out their Linebacker of the Year award, it's called the Butkus Award. That, too, is how great Dick Butkus was.
Here's the video evidence. But stick around for a bonus video -- a short, but glorious clip of my favorite play ever with Dick Butkus, that I remember as a kid and happily found.
Yet for all his renown as a spectacular defensive player, my favorite play with Butkus that I remember when growing up had nothing to do with defense!
When the Bears would kick extra points and field goals, they would use Butkus to block for the kicker, because he was so tough. Late in one game in 1972 (the video says "1971," but that's incorrect), the Bears lined up to kick an important extra point against the Philadelphia Eagles. But the snap was bad, and the ball got away from the holder -- who happened to also be the team's quarterback, Bobby Douglas.
Meanwhile, as Douglas scrambled around to gather up the loose ball, Dick Butkus had the presence of mind (even as a defensive player) to realize that he was of no value in the backfield, and instead sneaked his way into the end zone.
Now, I can assure you, at no time during the Philadelphia Eagles' game preparation was the question ever brought up -- "Okay, now, who will be covering Butkus?" And so, there Butkus was, almost literally just standing in the end zone all alone, no one close to him. Because who in the world would think of covering Dick Butkus. And when Bobby Douglas finally was able to control the ball, he ran around to his left -- happily being a left-handed thrower, and happily Butkus (perhaps knowing this and in part, too, because he was lined up on the left) had run out to the left side -- and so Douglas, being a quarterback, spotted Butkus entirely by himself in the end zone. And threw him the ball, which Butkus simply stood there and caught, for the extra point.
But that's not the best thing about the play. What happened next made the play special -- all the more so when compared to this era of player celebrations and choreographed team dances when they do something good. When Butkus caught the extra point, he didn't celebrate, he didn't dance, he didn't spike the ball -- instead, he just turned to the Eagles' defender who was rushing towards him, but too late...and politely, and utterly sardonically held out the ball for him. In perhaps the most gracious, "in your face" move you will ever see. At which point the frustrated Eagles player just thwacked the ball away.
And best of all, as proof, here's that video!
It will come as no shock to people that I love the Chicago Cubs. And I particularly love the radio team, headed by Pat Hughes. In fact, when I watch Cubs games with my MLB.TV subscription, I use their "overlay" feature that syncs up the radio broadcast to the TV picture, rather than the TV play-by-play. It's not that I have anything against the TV team, they're pretty good. But I love listening to Pat Hughes, teamed up with analyst Ron Coomer. Pat Hughes is just warm and knowledgeable and funny and observant and wonderfully entertaining, just a really terrific broadcaster. And as I noted here a few months back, he was just elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, receiving their Ford C. Frick Award. And the induction ceremony was over the weekend.
By the way, Pat is wonderful partnered with Ron Coomer, but when he was previously teamed with another Ron, former Cub great Ron Santo (who was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame), the two were special -- in fact "unique" might be a better word. As an announcer, Ron Santo bordered on the good side of incompetent but was SO human (he once apologized for being late after an inning break because "I was in the bathroom" and another time brought the family's cleaning woman to the booth), SO funny (intentionally and otherwise), had such an other-worldly phenomenal rapport with Pat Hughes (who clearly protected his broadcasting limitations...) and loved the Cubs SO much that when the two did a broadcast, people in Chicago didn't say they were going to listen to the Cubs game, but rather "The Pat and Ron Show" (something Pat Hughes referenced in his induction speech). In fact, the station's email address for the radio broadcast was "@patandronshow.com".)
Anyway, I can't let the day go without embedding Pat Hughes' acceptance speech. It's only 15 minutes, tells some good stories and some funny ones, and much of it is spent praising other people, rather than talking about his career -- which is just so Pat. If this isn't something everyone here wants to listen to, I understand. But hopefully you'll give it a couple of minutes, just to hear how warm and personable he is.
Even if you don't watch much (or any) hockey, I think you’ll still enjoy this.
The NHL draft was last week, held in Nashville. The Chicago Blackhawks surprisingly won the lottery and got the first pick. This was a huge deal (and caused some controversies that the draft was “rigged”, as such conspiracy theories often do for pro sports drafts) because this year there was a “once in a generation” player, spoken of in the same terms as Wayne Gretzky, named Conner Bedard, sure to be the first pick.
The morning before the draft, the Chicago Blackhawks General Manager – Kyle Davidson – who was there for the event, took a walk down the street in Nashville with another team official, just to get away and relax. A reporter for the hockey website, Penalty Box Radio, had come to Nashville and was interviewing people on the street about the draft. They stopped Kyle Davidson – who is a young guy, only 34 – who wasn't dressed like a General Manager, but was instead just wearing a t-shirt and a backwards baseball cap, and the interviewer had no idea who he was. So, Davidson decided to play along. And he’s hilarious. In fact, most of the attention from the video is not on the reporter not knowing who he was talking to, but how wonderfully Davidson self-effacingly handles it all.
He later explained that at first when asked to be interviewed, he said, no, and walked on. But then realized that they didn’t know who he was, so it might be fun, and he went back.
The only thing it helps to know is for one question when he's asked if he can name any hockey players. He pretends to stumble through, at first, and names two Really Famous former greats. And then, slowly, the rest of the players he names are all on the Chicago Blackhawks. Know, too, that he leaves out some players on the current team, which he later said he did on purpose.
My favorite moment, though, is how he handles the very last "honest question."
Not shockingly, this went viral. First, because it got picked up in Chicago – where they’re now selling “Kyle from Chicago” sweatshirts. And then the NHL sent out the video. And eventually the website itself did a big mea culpa and had fun with it, recognizing that they were getting a ton of promotion.
This is a short interview later with Kyle Davidson talking about how it came about and his thinking when it was going on.
On Saturday and Sunday, two of the biggest historic rivals in baseball -- the Chicago Cubs and hateful St. Louis Cardinals -- will be playing against each other in...London. This video is a fun, wide-eyed look at the event from the perspective of a Londoner.
Musician-author-BBC sports commentator Felix White visited Wrigley Field to find out more about baseball, going behind the scenes at the ballpark, into the broadcast booth, on the field, to a neighborhood bar, and he even got a couple of players to play cricket.
Although his report is mostly done from the perspective of Chicago...well, okay, never mind, that's okay.
O joy! Big congrats to Northwestern women for winning the lacrosse national championship over Boston College, 18-6. It's their 8th title in 18 years under coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.
The team was led by the nation's leading scorer Izzy Scane (one of my favorite sports names) with 4 goals -- and 99 for the season! That's her below on the right side, #27.
Northwestern doesn't get to celebrate too many national championships -- except for women's lacrosse. So, it's a cause of major Wildcat celebration.
And just because she deserves it, here's a nice 2-minute video on the "Scane Train" from when Northwestern beat Denver the day before to make it into the finals. (They'd been down 4-2 and then went on an amazing 13-1 run.)
And yes, that's her pounding the ground after scoring yet another goal and then being knocked down.
And as a baseball bonus, we return you to Riccardo Muti, from 2012 when he threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game.
I find it adorable that Muti seems to love the Cubs, particularly since he's from Italy and didn't grow up on baseball or perhaps ever played it at all. But we know now that he's a lefty. Not the same form on the mound (or front thereof) as on the podium, but he did get it to the plate.
By the way, listen closely in the background as he walks to the mount. The P.A. is playing Beethoven's 5th Symphony.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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