Bear for all seasons

Dick Butkus then and now. (Tribune Photos)

He still thinks about the what-ifs sometimes.

"Who knows?" he said. "Maybe I wouldn't have been worth a (expletive) as a coach. Maybe I would have expected too much of these guys to be and play and practice like I did. That might have been a big flaw."

This is Butkus now

A series of popular beer commercials led to acting opportunities for Butkus. He has appeared in about 250 commercials, 40 television series (several in recurring or co-starring roles) and several movies.

In the beginning, he played Dick Butkus. But then he was able to overcome the dumb-jock stereotype and spread his thespian wings. He took acting classes and worked at the profession the same way he worked at football.

Before the camera, he has gazed into Wonder Woman's eyes and brawled with Nick Nolte. He particularly enjoyed being a regular on the educational teen sitcom "Hang Time" and his role as Brom Bones in the TV movie "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

There isn't much acting work for him these days, and that's fine. Hell, he was a football player.

That was Butkus then

When Butkus and Bertetto walked to school every day, they would stop at an open patch of grass, get on their knees, take a rolled-up piece of paper and play football — for as long as they could

"He had that unmistakable passion for the game when he was 6 or 7," Bertetto said.

"People say, 'If you were playing today, think of how much money you would have made,' " Butkus said, growing annoyed at the thought. "I say, 'What are you talking about? You think I played for money?' "

This is Butkus now

As much as Butkus loves the game, it seems the game loves him more.


Thirty-nine years after his last snap, the Butkus image is revered. He thinks his popularity has grown in retirement.

Until recently, he drove to Las Vegas a few weekends every month for autograph shows. For $69.99, he signed an 8-by-10 photo. For $199, he signed white-logo footballs.

To the felt-marker set, the Bellagio show "O" had nothing on the greatest player in the history of the Bears. Fans lined up out the door for him. They came from Chicago, sure. But they came from everywhere.

On one day, he signed for people from Denmark, Scotland, England, Australia, Mexico, Ecuador, Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, France and Canada.

He decided to give up the signings to spend more time at home.

The hospital where Butkus had his life-saving scan in Orange, Calif., now features a building called the Dick Butkus Center For Cardiovascular Wellness.