Khalil Mack passed a somewhat familiar face while walking to a Raiders team meeting. A moustache caused him to do a double take.
“Was that…Dick Butkus?”
Questions stormed through Mack’s mind. Why would the legendary Chicago Bears linebacker be in Alameda? Was the feared Hall of Famer, one of the best defenders in NFL history, a guest speaker during the offseason program? Head coach Jack Del Rio often used creative tactics this time of year. Maybe that was it.
Then Mack walked into the auditorium. Fellow players were seated, and team cameras were focused on him. Something was clearly up.
Mack was surprised to be the man of the hour, given the professional Dick Butkus award by its namesake, who flew from Los Angeles for the event. It’s given to the best professional and collegiate linebacker, and Mack was runner up for the amateur honor at the University of Buffalo.
“It was a pleasant surprise man,” Mack said Thursday, a day after the presentation. “In college I wanted to win it, and being like I won it now, it’s a surreal thing.”
Whether Mack plays linebacker anymore is debatable, but there’s no doubt he’s an elite defender. He was named a 2015 All-Pro at linebacker and defensive end, and was the NFL’s defensive player of the year last season.
He’s physical, immensely productive and excellent under pressure. Stats bear that out. So does the eye test.
Turn on last year’s tape and be wowed, from his interception returned for a touchdown to four fourth-quarter sacks including a strip that beat Carolina. Then there’s the never-fail run defense, which would make an old school football man proud watching.
Butkus is one of those. Most professionals receive the Butkus award without fanfare, but the legend wanted to do this one in person.
“It was awesome. Dick Butkus had his people call and ask if he could come and present,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “I said, ‘If you’re coming, absolutely. Love to have you.’ It was a big honor to have one of the legends in Dick Butkus come himself and acknowledge a great player for us and a guy who was defensive player of the year last year.”
The presentation’s initial focus was on the presenter.
Butkus highlights flashed across a big screen, showing a Monster of the Midway at his ferocious best.
“Dick Butkus highlights are crazy,” Mack said.
They feature intimidation through violence, an acutle aggesssive style that were effective yet wouldn’t fly in today’s NFL.
“If you could grab somebody’s helmet like that now, oh man. That would be lovely,” Mack said with a smile. “That would be lovely, man.”
A reporter also reminded him it’d be a fine. “I know, right?” Mack said. “That’d be a lot of money.”
Mack hasn't ever been fined. He has found a way to intimidate through proficiency, to excel in this era without the bravado typically accompanying such stature. His rarely wavers, but leadership has become more vocal with seasons gone by. Check out the peer pressure he applied to keep players out of trouble during summer break, telling them not to throw away a lottery ticket.
There’s no chance Mack will do so. He doesn’t take true breaks, preferring to stay in work mode during offseason lulls. He typically takes a few days after the season. He won’t go find some place exotic before training camp begins July 28, even when most others will.
“Everybody’s talking about what they might do, but I doubt it," Mack said, laughing. "I’m going to stay away from the beach. I grew up in Florida, I had 18 years to go out and walk on the sand, the beach and stuff. So, I’m over it. I’m going to be working.”