Bear for all seasons

Dick Butkus then and now. (Tribune Photos)

Little known fact: Butkus used to pray that no one would get hurt in his games — even opponents.

Butkus has a profound way of looking at football's role in his life.

"He always said God blessed him to have exactly what he needed to be a linebacker — short legs and a long torso," Bertetto said. "He felt he always had to respect that."

Butkus is a parishioner at Our Lady of Malibu and occasionally visits Serra Retreat, for which he helped raise money for a new chapel through a golf tournament.

However, he still doesn't get it when he sees players from opposing teams praying together after games. Butkus, who refused to speak to certain rivals when they were teammates at the Pro Bowl, never will understand fraternization between opponents.

When he would bring Butkus Award finalists together, he would shake his head when he saw them exchange phone numbers.

"What is that all about?" he said. "This is a (expletive) guy you might be playing against."

No, Butkus has not mellowed with age. The rage he played with still bubbles beneath the surface, Bruce Banner-style.

"His wife was right," Buffone said. "She said Dick was born mean."

Ask the ESPN paper-pusher who tried to explain why his expense check was late after he did a cross-country trip for the network.

"I said, 'Where's my money?' " he said. "She said, 'We're a big company.' I said, 'What the (expletive). I don't care. Get me my damn check now!' I went off on her, screaming like crazy."

Said Bertetto, "If somebody pisses him off, you don't want to be around him."

That was Butkus then

Defense wasn't just about tackling to Butkus. It was about punishing.

"You mention his name, my body starts aching," said Sanders, a Hall of Fame tight end.

In one memorable game at Soldier Field, Sanders hit Buffone square in the chops with a forearm on a crackback block, knocking out three of Buffone's teeth. When Buffone came back to the sideline, bleeding profusely, Butkus wanted to know who was responsible.

Later in the game, when Sanders came across the middle with his eyes on a pass, Butkus drilled him in his chest, laying him out.

"Cold-cocked me," Sanders said. "Hardest I ever was hit."

In another game at Tiger Stadium, the Lions tried playing an I-formation against the Bears. Before the game was through, Butkus had knocked every member of the Lions' "I" — center, quarterback, fullback and halfback — out of the game.

The Lions once had a game against the Bears out of reach with a minute or so left and were trying to kill the clock. After their first play, Butkus jumped up and yelled, "Timeout," startling teammates.