Bear for all seasons

Dick Butkus then and now. (Tribune Photos)

In August 2001, Dick Butkus was approached with a deal.

If he would record a radio advertisement, he would be given an EBCT heart scan. The scan normally would have cost about $15,000 and insurance didn't cover it.

"What the hell," Butkus said. "I hadn't been to a doctor in a long time."

He expected a clean bill of health because he had no signs of trouble.

The results were disturbing.

Two days later, Butkus had quintuple-bypass surgery.

Afterward, he saw the heart surgeon. "Come on," Butkus said. "Was it really that bad?"

Said the doctor, "You had one foot in the grave and one on a banana peel. In 30 days it could have been over."

Instead of slipping into a grave, Dick Butkus lived. On Dec. 9, he celebrated his 70th birthday.

That was Butkus then

He was 13 pounds, 6 ounces at birth, the eighth Butkus kid but the first born in a hospital. Good thing too; he was a "blue baby" and needed to be incubated for a week.

At his family's four-room house at 10324 S. Lowe Ave. in Roseland on the South Side, Butkus shared an 8-by-10 room with four brothers.

His mother didn't cut his hair for the first three years of his life. She was hoping for a girl.

Emma Butkus, the tough, spirited matriarch, worked 50 hours a week at Monarch Laundry and still managed to tend to her army.

Her husband, Don, an electrician, was a gentle survivor of concentration camps but a man of fierce determination. The Lithuanian immigrant was uncomfortable with the English language and very reticent.

His youngest son didn't talk much, either, because he was so shy.

"He would look down all the time," said Rick Bertetto, who met Butkus when they were registering for kindergarten, was nicknamed "Butkus' Mouthpiece" in high school and remains as close to him as anyone.

"He didn't look anybody in the eye."

When Butkus signed with the Bears, he gave his parents his $6,000 signing bonus. They bought burial plots.