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Butkus star appeal

For Dick Butkus, becoming head coach of a pro-football team in Chicago is a dream come true-except that his dream team was the National Football League's Bears, the team for which he starred as middle linebacker in the 1960s and 70s, not the XFL's yet-unnamed Windy City franchise.

"I'm pretty excited about" the XFL job, says Butkus, who has just the traits the new league wants: a bad-to-the-bone reputation during his playing days and a larger-than-life personality.

Butkus was the first head coach the XFL tapped for any of its eight proposed football teams. The others are to be named shortly.

It's Butkus' first coaching assignment. But, in a case of life imitating art, he played a coach on TV-in the NBC Saturday-morning series Hang Time. Hang Time was in production for two seasons, and Butkus says he wished it had lasted longer. "It's going to [off-network] syndication, which is really good for the producer but not so good for the actors."

Butkus also appeared on Blue Thunder, an hour-long crime show; Half Nelson, a lighthearted crime show with Joe Pesci; My Two Dads, in which he had a running part playing the owner of a diner; as well as being the referee of Star Games.

Many TV viewers may remember him better from his appearances in a series of Miller Lite spots ("Tastes Great/Less Filling"). And football fans may recall his two years in the CBS broadcast booth as part of the NFL Today in the early 1980s. He also spent 10 years as a local radio commentator on Bears games.

Butkus looks at the new assignment as "sort of finishing the last phase of my football career." And he scoffs at those who criticize his lack of coaching experience. He's got a plan and philosophy, which he says he has run by "some of my NFL buddies, who said I was right on." He's now engaged in picking assistants, which, he says, is half the battle.

It's definitely crunch time, he notes. The team basically has to be created from scratch in the next five months. "I think we'll get it done."

So, some 28 years after retiring from the game, Butkus is happy to finally get his shot at coaching. "I'm just trying to do my thing, and if it doesn't work or we don't win, fine. But I'm going to go after it."-S.McC.