Bear for all seasons

Dick Butkus then and now. (Tribune Photos)

He will celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary with his high school sweetheart, Helen, in July.

"He's crazy about her," said former Bear Doug Buffone, who also roomed with Butkus for a time. "She has been right there with him every step of the way. And he is true blue, always has been."

Helen and Dick are mom and dad to Nikki, 46, Rick, 45, and Matt, 40. And they are grandparents to Ian, 13, Gavin, 8, Ricky, 1, and Raymond, 9 months. They enjoy watching their grandkids' sporting events quietly from the stands.

In his free time, Butkus likes to watch Turner Classic Movies. Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, Errol Flynn and Myrna Loy are among his favorite stars.

For him, the oldies are best. But he watched "Titanic" again recently.

"That movie blows me away with that damn song and everything," he said.

When he drives, he listens to The Great Courses, lessons from leading professors.

And he lives for a good practical joke. When Butkus visited Mayor Richard M. Daley with some friends and lined up behind the mayor's desk for a photo, the silence was broken by a muffled, trumpet-like sound that startled and appalled others in the room — Butkus' fart maker.

He carries one in his briefcase and another in his golf bag.

That was Butkus then

Lions running back Altie Taylor once saw Butkus charging at him full speed and stepped out of bounds before he could be hit. This so angered Butkus that he kept chasing Taylor out of bounds. In fact, he chased him clear into the stands at Soldier Field.

When Taylor finally got back to the huddle, he told teammate Charlie Sanders, "That man's crazy."

An official in a 1971 Bears-Dolphins game might have thought the same thing. He popped out of a pile holding out his finger, which was covered with blood. Butkus allegedly walked away with a sly grin and reddish teeth.

"I used to line up at the outside linebacker position and look inside," Buffone said. "I'd see him hulking over the center. He always had a little blood trickling down his face. I don't know if he would cut himself or what. But I'd always say to myself, 'Thank you, Lord, he's on my side.' "

In October 1971, Playboy described Butkus: "He's the meanest, angriest, toughest, dirtiest son of a bitch in football. An animal, a savage, subhuman."

Such perceptions never sat well with Butkus. But he didn't do much to change them.

In his playing days, Butkus once told an interviewer, "I sometimes have a dream where I hit a man so hard his head pops off and rolls downfield."

This is Butkus now

Butkus laughs at the image he helped create.

"I was just saying (expletive) to go along with what everybody wanted," he said. "It actually was playing a role."