Bear for all seasons

Dick Butkus then and now. (Tribune Photos)

"It was like I had leprosy," Butkus said. "They were spreading rumors I wouldn't play because of my pain tolerance."

The court of public opinion turned against Butkus. Even his brothers questioned him. Butkus didn't feel at home in Chicago anymore and moved to Florida, dismayed about his Bears experience.

When he retired, his wife kept a number of mementos from his playing days, but they were stored in a Florida barn and many were damaged. Butkus threw everything in a trash bin.

Eventually the Bears settled with Butkus out of court, agreeing to pay him the full value of his contract.

This is Butkus now

In 1979, Butkus and Halas spoke one last time. Butkus asked Halas if he would sign a copy of Halas' autobiography, "Halas By Halas."

In it, Halas wrote, "To: Dick Butkus. The greatest player in the history of the Bears. You had that old zipperoo."

And with that, the feud was over.

"I have nothing to apologize to them, or them to me," Butkus said. "I was pissed then because I didn't understand what they were trying to do. I understand now; it's a business."

He rekindled his association with the team in a nine-year stint as the radio analyst before he tired of the travel. The Bears retired his No. 51 in 1994.

One of his proudest moments came in 2004, when the team unveiled the Soldier Field sculpture in which he, Halas and seven other Bears Hall of Fame players are immortalized. He felt honored and humbled to be on the same stone with Halas, one of the league's founding fathers.

Butkus looks forward to watching the team on television, and like most of the people in the stands, he frequently is frustrated.

"I get embarrassed when they are embarrassed," he said. "They are successful in spite of themselves. One time I told Halas, 'With the history and everything the Bears have, why don't you have the best of everything?' He got up. I thought he was going to take a poke at me."

That was Butkus then

Butkus could have become Mike Ditka.

He felt coaching was in his blood. When he was negotiating his last contract as a player, he asked for a clause that would have made him a player-coach. After his knee wouldn't let him play anymore, he offered to be an assistant coach at a lesser salary.

He was rebuffed on both requests.

"I was naive," he said. "I thought because I played with the Bears I would eventually coach there."

In 1979, he had an opportunity to be a special-teams coach for the Lions. He said no.

"For me it would have had to be in Chicago," Butkus said. "But that was impossible."