April 4, 2009

HE WAS THE SIZE OF A MODERN WIDE RECEIVER:

A Special Kind Of Brute With A Love Of Violence: For Linebacker Dick Butkus of Illinois, the good life consists mainly of picking apart a few blockers and mashing the ballcarrier, a habit that makes the Illini tough to beat (Dan Jenkins, October 12, 1964, Sports Illustrated)

If every college football team had a linebacker like Dick Butkus of Illinois (see cover), all fullbacks would soon be three feet tall and sing soprano. Dick Butkus is a special kind of brute whose particular talent is mashing runners into curious shapes. He is, in fact, the product of an era—an era that has seen his position properly glamorized by such professional primates as Sam Huff and Joe Schmidt, and an era that has fostered defensive specialists in college through the gradual casing up of substitution rules. But while the 1964 season has therefore uncaged a rare group of first-rate collegiate linebackers, there is only one Dick Butkus. No linebacker mashes as many opponents as this Illinois senior, and what is more he does it in the Big Ten, a conference that offers little else to mash except fellow brutes.

There are a lot of reasons why Butkus is the most destructive defensive player in collegiate football, one who personally made 145 tackles and caused 10 fumbles last season and who this season has a good chance to become the first lineman in 15 years to win the Heisman Trophy. The first reason is his size. Butkus is 6 feet 3 and weighs 243 pounds, which means that he is the biggest college linebacker on a list of exceptionally good ones that includes Texas' Tommy Nobis, Washington's Rick Redman, Auburn's Bill Cody, Duke's Mike Curtis, Arkansas' Ronnie Caveness, Georgia Tech's Dave Simmons and Rice's Malcolm Walker. While these players are just as tough and willing as Butkus, they cannot hit as hard because they simply are not as big. Butkus not only hits, he crushes and squeezes opponents with thick arms that also are extremely long. At any starting point on his build, he is big, well-proportioned, and getting bigger. Once this summer Butkus reached a hard 268 pounds, but he trimmed some of it off for fear of losing speed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at April 4, 2009 7:47 AM
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