There were few, if any, players in the NFL more respected by Vince Lombardi, his Packers players and also the members of the Green Bay teams in the early 1970s than Dick Butkus.
Butkus wasn't just a hard-nosed, old-school middle linebacker when he played for the Chicago Bears from 1965-73, he epitomized Bear toughness and might have been the most elite defender in the entire league.
"Butkus, hell, we used to put three people on him and still couldn't block him," Dave Hanner, who spent more than 40 years as a player, coach and scout with the Packers, said in 1996 in an interview for the book, "Mudbaths & Bloodbaths: The Inside Story of the Bears-Packers Rivalry."
"(Butkus) was as tough as anybody who ever came through there.
"(Ray) Nitschke was tough. Nitschke was a mean player and all. But he didn't have the instincts, and he couldn't control blockers and shed them like Butkus. I've never seen a better defensive player than him."
Even at the end of Butkus' career, when he couldn't cut and pursue like once he did as a result of four knee operations and his advancing age, he was still an imposing player who could rumble with the best.
"I didn't get to play against Butkus, but everybody I played with said he was by far the best," former Packers center Larry McCarren said in 1996. "I remember when I was rookie, the first time we played the Bears, I was still on the cab squad.
"You know I grew up watching Butkus, so I watched him the whole warmup. This was when his leg was all screwed up. And he's dragging that leg through the warmups and I'm wondering: 'How can this son of a b---- play?' I'm thinking: 'It's too bad,' blah, blah, blah. The first play or the first series, (Gale) Gillingham – he should be in the Hall of Fame; he could play – comes smoking right into Butkus one-on-one and Butkus, 'Boom!' He just drops his a-- like it was nothing and stuffs the ballcarrier. I thought that guy is something special. Then, at the end of the year when I was playing, he was done."
Butkus might have been at his intimidating best on the punt-block team.
"At one time, he'd take a running start and hit that center on punts," said Hanner. "Damn, he just murdered them."
Larry Krause, who grew up in Greenwood, Wis., played for St. Norbert College and then for the Packers for four years in the early 1970s, remembered witnessing the carnage firsthand his rookie year when Malcom Walker was the Packers' long snapper.
"We had this Malcolm Walker and Butkus about killed him," Krause said in 1997. "(Butkus would) line up, time it and then just about destroy the center. We went in on Monday and Malcom had two ice bags on each shoulder, his knees, his ankles. He was like engulfed in ice. He was totally beat to hell."
Krause had his own encounters with Butkus on special teams.
"I remember the second game then (in 1970) in Chicago and we were trying different cadences so (Butkus) wouldn't destroy the center," said Krause. "I was the up-back and we kind of got him on the wrong count. (Butkus) was like backing up and I came and hit him. He got awfully mad at that. He was always swearing at you, cussing at you."
Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Jerry Kramer remembered Lombardi praising Butkus before the Packers played the Bears in 1965, Butkus' rookie year. It was so unusual for Lombardi to throw around accolades about a rookie on another team that Kramer and the Packers' other seasoned veterans were more than curious to watch Butkus on film.
"I remember the first time we ever watched him play," Kramer said in 1997. "He blitzed and the fullback caught him under the chin. Put just an absolutely beautiful block on him. (Butkus) knocked him just flat on his a--. And the quarterback threw like a square-out to the wide receiver. The guy jigged a couple times and came back into the middle and Butkus tackled him.
"Everybody is going: 'Run that back, run that back. How the hell did he get out there?' I think that was his great strength, his great hustle. Dick absolutely never quit. He had incredible hustle. He just never gave up."