Dick Butkus, one of the greatest and most intimidating linebackers in NFL history, has died at the age of 80, his family and the Chicago Bears announced on Thursday. Butkus passed away “peacefully in his sleep overnight” at his home in Malibu, California, according to a statement from his family.
Dick Butkus was born in Chicago on December 9, 1942, and played his entire football career in his home state of Illinois. He attended Chicago Vocational High School, where he starred as a linebacker and a center.
Butkus then went on to play for the University of Illinois, where he was a two-time consensus All-American, the Big Ten Most Valuable Player in 1963, and the UPI Lineman of the Year in 1964. He led the Illini to a Rose Bowl victory in 1963 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
Both Butkus and fellow Hall of Famer Gale Sayers were taken by the Chicago Bears in the top five in the 1965 NFL Draft. Butkus "always wanted to be a Bear" and was a member of the team from 1965 to 1973.
In addition, he made a name for himself right away as a game-changing force and ball hawk by finishing his debut season as the league's rookie interceptions leader with five. He received two NFL Defensive Player of the Year accolades in addition to his eight Pro Bowl nods in a row.
The late star retired with a record 22 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries, and his hard hits on the field caused countless others. When needed, he would also kick extra points and return kickoffs for the Bears.
Butkus's persistent work and fierce competitiveness earned him a reputation as a top performer. In his rough age, he personified all that football was supposed to be. He was a fan favorite and considered by many to be one of the best linebackers in NFL history.
After Bill George and through Mike Singletary, Brian Urlacher, and others, he continued the tradition of excellence as a middle linebacker for the team. His teammates looked up to him and followed his example because of how hard he worked.
Despite Butkus’ greatness on the field, the Bears did not qualify for the playoffs once during his career, as Chicago struggled after George Halas stopped coaching in 1967. The team failed to finish above .500 for the remainder of Butkus’ playing days. Butkus' relentless approach also had a negative impact on his well-being.
A right knee injury forced him to retire at the age of 31 following the 1973 season. He underwent several surgeries and sued the Bears and team doctors for negligence in treating his injury. The lawsuit was settled out of court in 1981.
Butkus was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, becoming the youngest player ever to be inducted at that time. He was also named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, and the Hall of Fame All-Decade Teams for the 1960s and 1970s. His jersey No. 51 was retired by the Bears.
After retiring from football, Butkus attempted a career in show business. The films Any Given Sunday, Necessary Roughness, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and The Longest Yard all featured him in supporting roles. Television shows such as My Two Dads, Hang Time, MacGyver, Murder, She Wrote, and Malcolm in the Middle used him either as a main cast member or a guest star. He was a commentator for a number of networks including NBC, CBS, and ESPN.
Butkus leaves behind a wife (Helen), three kids (all grown up), and five grandkids. The family is grateful for the prayers and support from everyone. The Bears said they were "deeply saddened" by Butkus' demise and conveyed their sympathies to his family. They also promised to observe a moment of silence in his memory prior to their upcoming home game on October 15 against the Green Bay Packers.
The sports and entertainment industries have united in mourning Butkus' passing. There have been several tributes to Butkus on social media and in interviews with former and present players, coaches, commentators, celebrities, and fans. They laud his brilliance, resiliency, moral fiber, and legacy. They have shared their grief and appreciation for his contributions to the game and their lives.
Butkus was a legend who transcended football and inspired generations of fans and players. He was a Chicago icon who embodied the spirit and pride of the city and the Bears. He was a Hall of Famer who left an indelible mark on the history and culture of the sport. He will be remembered and missed by many as one of the greatest to ever play the game.