Friday, October 7, 2011

Stars and Legends: Linebackers, continued

Today we finish our discussion of the game's greatest linebackers with the Legends of the past.

Yesterday’s Legends:

Dick Butkus (Chicago Bears, 1965-1973): Dick Butkus, a Chicago native, attended the University of Illinois and was drafted 3rd overall in the 1965 draft by the Chicago Bears. In his first game, he made 11 tackles and never let up. Despite his size, he was speedy and quick. Athleticism paired with strength and aggression led him to impressive career statistics: 27 fumble recoveries, 22 interceptions and 1,020 tackles.*  Butkus played in eight consecutive Pro Bowls, was named an All-Pro six times, and was selected for the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and the NFL All-Decades Teams of the 1960s and 1970s. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. Dick Butkus has enjoyed a successful second career as an actor.  In addition to endorsements (including a memorable Miller Lite ad with ex-NFL star Bubba Smith), Butkus has appeared in the films Necessary Roughness, Any Given Sunday, The Longest Yard and the TV movie Brian’s Song. He also had recurring roles in a few TV series (including My Two Dads) and single-episode appearances in several more, including Magnum P.I. (pictured), The Rockford Files, and Murder, She Wrote, in which he appeared in a locker room scene wearing nothing but a towel.

Jack Lambert (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1974-1984): Jack Lambert attended Kent State and was drafted in Round 2 of the 1974 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers; he won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award at the end of his first season.  His toothless grin (from a basketball injury) helped build his reputation as an intimidating opponent.  A member of the famed “Steel Curtain” defense of the 1970’s, he won four Super Bowls.  Over his career he amassed 1,479 tackles, 23.5 sacks and 28 interceptions. He was selected to nine Pro Bowls and named a first-team All-Pro seven times. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1990, Lambert has also been named to the NFL 75th Anniversary team, and the All-Decade Team of the 1970s and 1980s. Lambert was known throughout his career as a hard hitter. Asked for his response to being ejected from a game for a late hit he delivered on Cleveland Browns QB Brian Sipe, Lambert responded “Quarterbacks should wear dresses.”

Mike Singletary (Chicago Bears, 1981-1992): Mike Singletary attended Baylor University and was drafted by the Bears in the second round of the 1981 draft. His intimidating style,including a piercing stare, earned him the nickname “Iron Mike.” He’s also an ordained minister, which gave rise to his other nickname, the “Minister of Defense.” When he retired, he had made nearly 1,500 tackles, seven interceptions and fourteen fumble recoveries while missing only two games in his career. In the Chicago Bears’ championship season in 1985, Singletary won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year title. His ten consecutive Pro Bowls are still a Bears team record and he was named an All-Pro eight times. Singletary was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998. He served as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers from the middle of the 2008 season until the last two weeks of the 2010 season, and he is currently the linebackers coach and assistant head coach for the Minnesota Vikings.

Lawrence Taylor (New York Giants, 1981-1993): Lawrence Taylor, nicknamed “L.T.”, attended the University of North Carolina and was drafted 2nd overall by the New York Giants in 1981. L.T. quickly earned a reputation as an intimidating, hard-hitting player and won several awards during his career. Considered by many to be the greatest linebacker of all time, his aggressive, quick play is cited as the reason offensive blocking schemes evolved during the 1980’s. For example, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs developed an offense using two tight ends and a halfback to help block Taylor.** L.T. also introduced the technique of chopping the ball out of quarterback’s hands instead of just trying to tackle him. His reputation as a player to be feared was further enhanced by his hit on Redskins QB Joe Theismann on Monday Night Football in 1985. Taylor hit Theismann in the back of the knee and the quarterback’s shin snapped like a toothpick; probably the most gruesome football injury captured on film. The injury ended Theismann’s career.***   L.T. was selected as an All-Pro and Pro Bowler an incredible 10 times each and won two Super Bowls with the Giants. He won several Defensive Player of the Year Awards from different organizations and was named to the NFL 75thAnniversary All-Time Team and the 1980’s All-Decade Team. His jersey number, 56, has been retired by the Giants.

*Butkus’ sack totals are not readily available because the NFL did not keep track of sacks as a statistic until 1982.


***Incidentally, the Redskins were trying to run a flea flicker on that play...