As one of the NFL's top defensive lineman of his day, Dave Butz used his balance, patience and body control to dominate offensive lineman and wreak havoc on quarterbacks. Those skills that helped him out-think and out-muscle blockers were honed and sharpened on the shooting range from the time he was a child growing up in Illinois.
Butz, who retired from the NFL following the 1987 season after 15 years in the trenches, took to shooting after realizing his skills with a BB gun as a youngster.
From there it grew from a hobby to an important part of his life and now helps shape his post-NFL career.
"My Dad taught me how to shoot when I was a kid," Butz recalled. "I had a BB gun competition with my mom and dad when I was around eight or nine years old. My Dad was a very good shot and so is my mom. But my mom dropped out so I had a competition with my Dad and I beat him with the BB gun. So finally I thought I had arrived because my mother said it was time to get me a .22. From then on I have always enjoyed the shooting arts. It teaches a lot of control and you have to have your wits about you."
Butz, who proudly owns three Super Bowl rings from his years with the Redskins, carried many of the lessons and techniques he learned on the shooting range onto the football field with him.
He found a surprising number of similarities between the competition on the football field and competing to be the best sportsman he could be with a firearm in his hands.
"Being large, shooting helped me work on some of my coordination and breath control and just a little bit of a mental attitude," he said. "It helps with concentration because you have to be steady and still and not get over-anxious and it teaches you to bide your time."
After his playing career ended, Butz involved himself with several businesses before turning most of his attention to his passion for shooting.
"When I first left the game, we had a golf course here in Belleville called The Orchards Golf Course and I was overseeing managing that and a development area that included housing," he said. "Since then, I have sold my interest in that and have been working with the National Rifle Association (NRA)."
Butz, who once checked himself out of a hospital in the morning before posting a game-saving sack that same afternoon, assumed a leadership role with the NRA and is proud of what he has helped the organization accomplish.
"I'm a board member of the NRA and have been for four years," he said. "I'm also an outside consultant for the NRA which means I do things like working with people for the endowment and endowing the projects that the NRA offers. The majority of the money they receive they turn around and turn it back into different projects. It could be Boy Scouts, Women on Target and things like that."
Working with the NRA and staying active in the shooting arts also allows Butz to exercise some of the competitive spirit he used to get out on the football field.
"When you get into some football games, it's so intense that you don't even hear the crowd noise. Everything explodes and it's physical and there is nothing in the civilian world that replaces that," he said. "But the closest thing to that for me is shooting sporting clays which are clay targets thrown in the air and on the ground.
"The thing that, for me, comes closest to that rush at the snap of the football is every time you call for a target. Every time there is a new game and a new chance. There are usually teams of five competing against each other and you also can compete against your own team and yourself knowing that there was something you can do better. I like that competition."
In addition to his duties with the NRA, Butz does a little bit of scouting as well. Not for a team or university but for his son, Dave Butz II, a certified NFL agent who is on the look-out for new clients every year.
"He had six people drafted this year with Matt Jones in Jacksonville being his top pick," Butz proudly offered. "So I get to watch his players and see their potential as NFL players. I get to watch film and critique them and some of the guys I get the chance to do a little 'push-pull' against which is really interesting."
Butz was originally signed by the then-St. Louis Cardinals as a free agent in August, 1975 out of Purdue University. After one season with the Cards he signed with the Redskins where he spent the final 14 seasons of his career. He remains fourth on the team's all-time games played list with 203 and his 59.5 career sacks ranks third in team history.
He also still keeps close tabs on his former team and former coach, Joe Gibbs, who returned to the sidelines last season after 12 years away from the game.
"I still root for the Redskins and I am very happy Coach Gibbs came back," Butz offered. "I think a lot of people expected too much. You can't walk on water your first year because you can't make too many changes during the season because you've been given what you are given. But now that he's had a chance to see everybody, and I'm sure they watched a tremendous amount of film as Coach Gibbs does, I'm sure they'll have a much better season this year."