The great thing about the Bears' Dick Butkus is that he plays football so well. What he doesn't do so well is talk into his tape recorder for a solid week about a full house of issues, many of them as relevant to pro football as your kid sister. Unfortunately, that is what he has tried in Stop-Action (Dutton, $6.95), a free-form diary of a week in the life of a linebacker.
The week Butkus reviewed (with the help of Writer Robert Billings) is the final one of last season—a dismal seven days for the Bears and mediocre ones for Butkus, who was hampered by a knee operation that kept him from going at 100%. As a result, the pro's prose is a mélange of frustrations and petty grievances. For example, he says of the Detroit Lions, "I think they are a lot of jerks, from the owner, the general manager, the coach on down.... If we were voting for a jerk team or organization they'd have my vote all the way."
Ordinarily, one might be willing to read such diatribes, as well as the comments he makes on his team's chug-a-lug contests, its bizarre card games or the workingmen's bars of Roseland, such as Stuka's, where "if you order a fancy drink he'll tell you to go someplace else." What is disappointing is that all this 1950s machismo leaves precious little space to discuss the game itself. And that is all too bad because Butkus could tell us so much about what it is like to play football and outthink the opponent. When he sticks to that, the book is good. Likewise, he is topical and interesting on the subjects of AstroTurf, the cussedness of the front office (the Bears management nixed a dealer's offer of a free color TV for the player of the week) and coaching.
For all that, Butkus does seem a little out of touch. Coming after iconoclastic—if not hysterical—books by such as Dave Meggyesy, Bernie Parrish and Larry Merchant, Stop-Action is anticlimactic. We have become used to commercial discontent among the jocks, and most of Butkus' predecessors in the genre raised more basic questions, like what football does to a player's spirit, or whether there is an NFL blackball, or how come so many defensive secondaries are black. Butkus manages to sidestep these and blames his frustrations on his teammates and kindred spirits, some of whom are seen as dogging it or laughing it up too much.
October 15, 1972
BUTKUS: "What the hell are you laughing about? What's so damn funny?"
LLOYD PHILLIPS: "I'm laughing because they're so damn wide open."
D.B.: "If you were doing your job rushing they wouldn't be so damn wide open."
L.P.: "Who the hell do you think you are?"
Similarly, his approach to the Bears' racial problems could qualify him for some sort of NFL linear-oversimplification award. When the black players refuse to contribute to a team gift for a veteran player they consider racist, Butkus explodes: "What the hell does [their refusal] make them? I felt the least we could do is give [him] a little recognition...." Which is, of course, exactly what the black players were doing.
Somehow I think his editors missed a bet by not giving his book a more appropriate title. Say, The Wit and Wisdom of Archie Butkus.