The Chicago Bears confirmed the death of Dick Butkus, a Pro Football Hall of Famer generally recognized as one of the finest linebackers in NFL history, at the age of 80.
According to the team, Butkus died “peacefully in his sleep overnight” at his Malibu, California, home.
“Dick was the ultimate Bear, and one of the greatest players in NFL history,” said Bears chairman George H. McCaskey. “He was the son of Chicago.” He embodied everything our wonderful city stands for, as well as what George Halas sought in a player: toughness, smarts, intuition, enthusiasm, and leadership. He wouldn’t settle for anything less than the finest from himself or his colleagues. We requested Dick to speak at the event to dedicate the George Halas monument at our team headquarters because we knew he spoke for Papa Bear.
“Dick had a gruff demeanor, which may have deterred some people from approaching him, but he had a soft touch.” His philanthropic legacy includes a drive to eliminate performance-enhancing substances from sports and promote heart health. His contributions to the game he loved will live on forever, and we are pleased he was able to attend our home opening this year to be remembered by his many admirers one final time.
“We extend our condolences to Helen, Dick’s high school sweetheart and wife of 60 years, and their family.”
Butkus was born in Chicago and spent his entire football career there, first as a standout at Chicago Vocational High School, then as a two-time All-American at the University of Illinois, and lastly as an all-time Bears great.
Butkus was a five-time first-team All-Pro pick and an eight-time Pro Bowler during his nine-year career with the Bears. He has 22 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries in his career, one of which was returned for a score. Butkus’ 49 career takeaways rank second in team history, and he sometimes kicked extra points and ran back kickoffs.
Butkus, known as one of the NFL’s toughest tacklers, exemplified football in his tough age with his persistent effort. He was also recognized as one of the most fearsome linebackers in professional football history, and at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, he was considered fairly huge for a middle linebacker at the time.
RIP Dick Butkus, #Bears legend
One of the most feared players in NFL history pic.twitter.com/sZ0pLiYM0c
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) October 5, 2023
Butkus was taken third overall by the Bears in the 1965 NFL Draft, which also included fellow Hall of Famer Gale Sayers as the fourth overall selection. Although the Denver Broncos picked him in the AFL draft the same year, Butkus told reporters when he signed that he “always wanted to be a Bear,” referring to the team managed by famed coach George Halas at the time.
As a consequence, Butkus became one of the Bears’ most adored players, continuing on Bill George’s middle linebacker reputation, which was subsequently perpetuated by Mike Singletary, Brian Urlacher, and others.
Butkus rose to prominence quickly, leading all rookies in interceptions (five). Butkus was beaten out for Rookie of the Year by Sayers (back when there was just one award for offensive and defensive players).
Despite Butkus’ dominance on the field, the Bears never made the playoffs throughout his career, as Chicago faltered after Halas retired in 1967, failing to finish above.500 for the rest of Butkus’ playing career. Butkus’ tenacity has a negative impact on his health. Following the 1973 season, he was forced to retire at the age of 31 due to a right knee injury.
Despite playing just 37 games from 1971 to 1973, Butkus was selected to the Hall of Fame All-Decade Teams for the 1960s and 1970s. Only Singletary (10) and Walter Payton (9) have appeared in most Pro Bowls for the Bears club. Butkus was also a member of the NFL’s 100 All-Time Team, and the Bears retired his No. 51 jersey.
In 1979, Butkus was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 1983, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
His memory lives on via the Butkus Award, which was established in 1985. Every year, it is given to the top linebacker in the professional, collegiate, and high school levels.
Butkus spent the most of his post-playing career in the limelight as an actor and broadcaster. He has been on television series such as “Hang Time,” “MacGyver,” “My Two Dads,” “Half Nelson,” “Blue Thunder,” and others, as well as being the Bears’ radio announcer for many years and a panelist on CBS’ pregame show “The NFL Today.”
Butkus, whose nephew Luke is on the Packers coaching staff, served as the face of the Bears’ old guard in many ways, routinely appearing at games and team-sponsored activities. He also joined Twitter (now X) in recent years, and he never lost his hate for his competitors – or his sense of humour.
There will very certainly never be another linebacker in the game’s history who had the same influence as Butkus.