If you do enough interviews, you become sort of immune to the process — talking to famous people doesn't really affect you after a while. Unless you're talking to a living legend, which I had the honor to do on Friday when I spoke with Hall of Fame middle linebacker Dick Butkus.
Considered by many to this day to be the greatest ever to play his position, Butkus put up some ungodly numbers in an injury-shortened nine-year career from 1965 to 1973, but more than that, he became the enduring symbol for toughness and physical intimidation in a sport where both of those factors are crucial.
What Butkus does not want to personify is a sports culture that has become more dependent on performance-enhancing drugs, which is why he's teamed up with EAS to announce 100% certification of EAS Sports Nutrition products to ensure athletes and fitness enthusiasts have access to clean, safe sports nutrition products to help them play and recover stronger. EAS becomes the first major brand to achieve 100% Certification of its sports nutrition product line.
From the press release:
The success of sports nutrition supplements combined with the freedom of the Internet has attracted those looking to make a quick profit by masking illegal products spiked with hidden steroids, stimulants and drugs as "dietary supplements." The unscrupulous actions of a few have threatened consumer safety and confidence and eroded the credibility of legitimate supplement makers. That's why EAS is taking action — taking this extra step because athletes and consumers are more concerned than ever and EAS wants them to have 100% confidence that EAS products are safe and clean.
You can find out more at IPlayClean.org, which is Butkus' own website.
Butkus had a lot to say about PEDs, and even more about the game in his era and the game today. Unlike some long-retired players, Butkus has a sharp and open mind about the NFL in the new millennium, and he's got a very good line on the linebackers of today — his comments in those cases were particularly enlightening.
It was my honor, and hopefully it will be your pleasure, to listen. Quotes from the interview after the jump; if you can't wait that long, simply left-click the link below to listen or right-click to download and save to your hard drive.
Why he's involved in this anti-PED initiative: "Maybe six years ago, I was with some high-school athletes, and the subject of steroids came up, which really shocked me. I was amazed that they were just talking about it like they'd talk about the weather."
On the part of his skill set that made him the most proud: "Causing turnovers — the ability to cause turnovers. I don't know how many more of those fumbles I caused that I didn't recover … and it took a guy like the defensive end from Minnesota who beat my record, and it took him about 20 years [Jim Marshall.] As a high-school fullback, I just remember what bothered me was getting tackled high and having guys wrap you up."
Which players today play the game the way he thinks it should be played? "If you take it from the opening kickoff to the end of the game, Ray Lewis. I don't need the cartwheels coming out of the tunnel, though. Patrick Willis is starting to … he's won the Butkus Award twice, both as a college and as a pro player. I like to watch him. But Ray will hit you … and cause you to think about it."
On Brian Urlacher: "Urlacher is good, but he's sort of a different type. Speed is his attribute, and he needs to be where he's at. He gets there really quickly. People talk about him taking on [opponents] maybe not as well as a Ray Lewis, but a lot of that has to do with people in front of you, as well. If you have a couple of linemen coming at you free, it's tough with their size and everything. He does an adequate job with that. But his main asset is his speed, and it's a wonder he's going into his ninth or tenth season, and he's still getting around pretty darned good. I find that amazing."
On his longtime friend Bubba Smith, who recently passed away: "I knew about him playing-wise, but I really got to know him when we were doing the [Lite Beer] commercials. We worked together for about 14 years in commercials, and another five years in TV, and I had great respect for him. He was a funny guy, and I think we just hit it off really well. It was never a matter of who gets to deliver the punchline … because of our successes in other endeavors. I was at his funeral [Thursday], and with [Hall of Fame tight end John] Mackey's passing, it's really sad … you've got to be lucky or fortunate in that everything's okay every day."