Dick Butkus and the Saints
When you think of Dick Butkus, you think of his wonderful nine-year playing career with the Chicago Bears.
Butkus was unquestionably the hardest hitter in the NFL, perhaps the most feared player in the league from 1965-73.
In 1976, Hank Stram was named head coach of the New Orleans Saints.
Stram was a Super Bowl winning coach with the Kansas City Chiefs.
A good man, Stram never had a chance in New Orleans.
He worked for an owner in John Mecom who had no idea how to construct a winner.
Stram’s success was largely tied to the ability of Archie Manning.
Unfortunately, Manning was out with an elbow injury for the entire 1976 season and was hampered in the 1977 season, playing in just 10 games.
Unfortunately, Mecom had no patience with Stram and fired him after his second season.
I began working in the sports broadcast industry in 1978 at WGSO, 1280 AM and WQUE, 92.3 FM.
At that time, WGSO had the broadcast rights to the New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Jazz and Tulane.
In 1976, Wayne Mack, one of my mentors and a friend, was the sports director of WGSO and was serving as the play-by-play voice for the New Orleans Saints in his first year of a six-year stint.
His first color analyst on the Saints Radio Network was none other than Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus.
A gregarious but intimidating guy, Butkus was not far removed from his playing days and it showed.
His demeanor and style were clearly of the Type A variety, demonstrative and aggressive.
The marriage did not last long.
Butkus did the first half of the season before Manning, who was injured, made his way up the third level of the Louisiana Superdome to join Mack to call the remaining eight regular season games.
It was a precursor for what was to come for Manning when his playing days ended as he would join the Saints broadcasts in 1985 and continued through 1997, when he stepped away to follow his son, Peyton, who began his illustrious NFL career in 1998 with the Indianapolis Colts.
It was quite a transition.
Butkus, whose numerous nicknames included “The Animal” and “The Enforcer,” left with his forceful narrative, never mincing words and gave way to Manning’s softer, more studious approach and choosing his words carefully.
When Manning returned to the playing field in 1977, Danny Abramowicz took over working with Mack over the next five seasons.
Butkus was gone from New Orleans, with the exception of having a role in the 1978 movie “Superdome.”
It was one of many movie and commercial appearances Butkus would make in his post-football life.
The deep ties for Butkus were clearly to Chicago.
Butkus passed away Thursday at the age of 80 at his home in Malibu, California.
While Butkus is a revered, beloved figure in Chicago, he had a brief professional existence, largely forgotten, in New Orleans.
He will never be forgotten as the ultimate “Monster of the Midway” who never quite made it big in “The Big Easy.”
Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…