Behemoth defensive tackle Dave Butz has an acute case of longevity, and the Washington Redskins will reward him Sunday with a ceremony fit for a running back. Actually, Butz toted the ball once himself, after a 1981 interception in Chicago, when he claims he swiped at a forward pass, corralled it and thought, “Oh, hell, I have to run with it.”
If his memory serves him, the ball “drew a crowd,” and he embarrassingly waded for the end zone. “Only good thing was Walter Payton didn’t catch me,” Butz recalled. “Bad part was that the center did.”
The 300-pound Butz finally crashed down that day six inches short of the goal line. “And it took our offense, with (John) Riggins, two plays to get it over,” he said. “Part of my team attitude. Let someone else score.”
Thus, it was inscribed on Butz’s game ball: “Six inches too short.” Sunday, he’ll be honored for hanging around 197 games long.
As it stands now, the rather subtle Butz has pried and taped himself together for 196 Redskins games -- to as far back as 1975 -- tying the all-time team record. This Sunday’s New Orleans game breaks it, and the Redskins are having Butz’s mother and father flown in first class from Illinois so they can escort Dave onto the RFK Stadium field for the pregame show.
Butz says it’ll be his folks’ first visit to RFK, because they’re normally home as “cheap baby-sitters” when they’re in town during the season. Joining them will be Len Hauss, the former Redskins center who made this all possible. It’s Hauss’ record that Butz is smashing, and Hauss was summoned by the Redskins to be an eyewitness. “Am I upset? Nah. Listen, all records are made to be broken,” Hauss said. “I suppose I still have that other record, anyway -- most consecutive games.”
Hauss, drafted in 1964, played every game on the Redskins schedule from his rookie season to his final season of 1977 -- 196 total. Butz, himself, has missed a game or two, but there is a fraternity of pain; some would even say of stupidity.
So, Butz particularly admires this record-breaking performance, simply because it associates him with Hauss, a no-nonsense rock of a player who remembers not speaking to a single player or coach his entire rookie training camp. Hauss was one of George Allen’s old guard, tracking around with quarterbacks Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer. To this day, Hauss -- rekindling some of that old Kilmer-Jurgensen-Joe Theismann spite -- still pronounces Theismann as “Theesman,” as Kilmer and Jurgensen did.
“His dad’s name is pronounced Theesman, right?” Hauss said. “His mom’s name is pronounced Theesman, right? So what’s his name?”
Hauss and Butz played three seasons together, though Hauss -- who now is a bank vice president in Jesup, Ga., has sketchy memories of their friendship. “You understand, he was not playing regularly then,” Hauss said. “We had (Diron) Talbert, (Manny) Sistrunk, Verlon (Biggs) and Ron (McDole), and, of course, George was not terribly fond of playing younger guys.”
Chimed Butz: “He oughta remember me; we practiced against each other.”
Both do remember a long list of injuries, almost all of which they chose to play with. Hauss has arthritis in his well-worn hands, and, in an interview the other day, reminded: “My knees hurt this morning.”
At one point of his career, Hauss was having his knee drained every week. It got so he felt he could drain the knee himself. “Was it serious? I don’t think anyone ever died from a cartilage injury,” he said.
In between offensive series, Hauss said he’d plop on a bench and have a trainer “jiggle” his knee back into place. Asked to explain, Hauss said “jiggling” is similar to when you jam your finger and have it yanked on. Trainers were yanking his knee so he could bend over and snap.
Arthroscopic surgery was a thing of the future, although Hauss did have five knee operations. “What we did,” he said, “was put off our operations until after the season.”
He rattles off his other battle scars: two elbow operations, a broken nose, fractured ribs, pinched nerves. In 1969, even, pinched-nerve problems had his arm atrophying, and his coach, Vince Lombardi, pulled him aside before a game.
“Let me see your arm,” Hauss remembers Lombardi saying, and Hauss stretched it out.
“It’s atrophying all right,” Lombardi said. “I’ve had this happen to a player before, so I want you to get it looked at.”
The stern Lombardi then trekked off, yet turned quickly to flash that front-toothless smile. “After the season, of course,” he said.
In Hauss’ final year, he recalls a particular so-called rib bruise, suffered when Dallas’ Jethro Pugh kneed him. The pain hunched him over, and he twice was sent for X-rays, though they kept coming back negative. Two days later at home, he lifted himself out of an easy chair to pick up the phone and heard a hospital attendant say, “Mr. Hauss, a technician misread your chart. You have a rib fracture.”
“Thank goodness,” Hauss responded. “I’d hate to have it hurt this bad and not have anything wrong.”
The next week, then, he and teammates Jake Scott and Eddie Brown had 10 cracked ribs among them and called themselves the “rib line,” as they waited for a free table in the training room.
Hauss has no sympathy for all these limp-along quarterbacks this year. “Hey, if a quarterback doesn’t have a hazardous job, there’s no reason to pay him that much,” he said.