Whenever the Chicago weather permits, which isn't often after the NFL season moves into late fall, Kevin Butler, the Bears' veteran kicker, likes to prepare for home games by playing golf on Saturday afternoon. "I think about tempo and try to correlate it to kicking," says Butler. These days Butler has another reason to mix golf and football. He and former teammate Walter Payton are partners in Gridiron Group, a new company that will market a series of golf tournaments revolving around the NFL, as well as a complete line of NFL-licensed golf products: balls, divot-repair tools, ball markers, etc., each emblazoned with a team logo.
Butler, 33, didn't play golf during his days at Georgia, where he was All-America in 1983 and '84. But he took up the game soon after discovering that golf was the avocation of choice among many of his Bear teammates. He picked it up quickly, partly because the mechanics of kicking are similar to the mechanics of the swing. He got down to a seven handicap, but has seen it rise to a 13 in direct correlation with the growth of his family (Kevin and his wife, Cathy, have two daughters and a son). "I used to take it seriously," Butler says, "but now it's mainly a release. Kicking in Chicago, I can't concentrate on much else."
Kicking in Chicago, because of the cold and the wind, is every bit as tough as, say, keeping the golf ball in play on a blustery day at Pebble Beach. Yet it's difficult to believe that Butler could have put up better numbers even if he had been with a team that has a dome for a home. In 10 seasons he has set 19 team records. As a rookie on the team that pounded New England 46-10 in Super Bowl XX, he scored 144 points, still a rookie record. Last season he became the first Bear to reach 1,000 career points.
One more record Butler wouldn't mind having is the one shared by Bill George and Doug Buffone for most seasons with the Bears (14). "I think I can kick at least five more years," says Butler, who is under contract through 1996. "But if the Bears don't want to renew, I'll be kicking at some place that's easier than Chicago."
To make it easier on Butler, Chicago has turned over kick-off duties to rookie Todd Sauerbrun, meaning Butler no longer will be in danger of suffering the injuries he has sustained making special team tackles.
Nevertheless, as the only member of the '85 title team still wearing a Bear uniform, Butler knows the kicks won't last forever. This is where golf comes in. Last week Gridiron Group displayed its line at the PGA International Golf Show. On the tournament front, Butler and Payton will run an NFL-sanctioned event during Super Bowl XXX week in Phoenix. They will use that event to kick off a series of amateur charity tournaments that will be held next summer in every league city. "We think there's great crossover between NFL fans and golf fans," Butler said.
But it's not crossovers but the crossbar that is foremost in Butler's mind during his Saturday rounds. "When I'm on the course," Butler says, "people will congratulate me on a good game. Otherwise, nobody bothers me. I'm sure that'll change, though, if I mess up."