Bear for all seasons

Dick Butkus then and now. (Tribune Photos)

"We line up," Buffone said. "He is over the top of the center Ed Flanagan, then takes four, five steps back. The center snaps it, and Dick comes running 100 mph and just smashes the center. Then he jumped up and called timeout again. He just wanted three more cracks at the center before the game ended."

This is Butkus now

At 70, Butkus might have to find a new way to be Butkus. The myth of the indestructible legend is starting to crumble.

"He has had a tough adjustment accepting what comes with age," Bertetto said. "He struggles with the things everyone struggles with, but he has an image people expect him to uphold. People still think of him as this huge, powerful NFL player."

Opponents weren't the only ones who had to pay for those violent Butkus hits.

Before Butkus got his arthritis under control, his rheumatologist said it was the worst case he had seen in 30 years. He couldn't walk without crutches, and it hurt everywhere.

"Even my teeth," he said.

He has had elbow surgery and two knee surgeries, including a knee replacement. He has two large scars on his right knee, one of which is about 11 inches long.

Butkus walks with a pretty good limp.

He can't raise his toes as a result of an impinged nerve in his back. That's a problem when he tries to play golf, so he doesn't play much anymore. At least not well.

Butkus never lifted weights when he was playing. He didn't discover the benefits of training until after he retired. He now has eight Nautilus machines in his house.

Among his training mantras is: "You aren't working out hard enough if the pain isn't making you very angry."

Do not expect Butkus to go gently into the dark night. He has been lifting so hard, the last time he went to get his blood pressure taken he needed a bigger cuff to fit around his arm.

"My biggest regret is I didn't let (Nautilus founder) Arthur Jones train me early on," Butkus said. "Then you really might have seen something."

While his body is battered, his mind is sharp. He says he doesn't think he had any concussions, but he was knocked out once. He sat out one quarter before he went back in, thinking the game was just beginning.

He understands the fuss about head injuries but doesn't understand why so many of his contemporaries are suing the NFL because of their concussions.

"It's fine if they are doing it for the right reason, to make an improvement in the game," he said. "But if they want to get compensated now for back then, I don't see how they are entitled to anything. Who knew anything about this then?"

That was Butkus then

It did not end well for Butkus in Chicago. Nine games into a four-year contract in 1973, his right knee no longer would allow him to play. The Bears insisted he still should play, but four independent specialists disagreed.

The Bears refused to pay him, and George Halas, his first coach and the owner of the team, advised Butkus to get a lawyer. He did and filed suit. It would be the last time the two spoke for five years.