Former Chicago Bear and Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick Butkus, considered among the best linebackers to ever play the game, has died, the team said Thursday. He was 80.
His family confirmed Butkus died peacefully in his sleep overnight in Malibu, California, the Bears said in a statement.
Butkus, a graduate of the University of Illinois, where he helped lead his team to a Rose Bowl victory, was a first-round pick by the Chicago Bears in the 1965 NFL Draft. A native of Chicago, Butkus played for the Bears for nine seasons, from 1965 to 1973.
Known as one of the fiercest tacklers in the NFL, Butkus epitomized football in his rugged era with relentless effort. He also was regarded as one of the most intimidating linebackers in professional football history and was considered rather massive for middle linebacker at the time at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds.
Following his playing career, Butkus remained in the spotlight mostly as an actor and announcer. He appeared on TV shows such as “Hang Time,” “MacGyver,” “My Two Dads,” “Half Nelson,” “Blue Thunder” and more, and was the Bears’ radio announcer for many years and a panelist on CBS’ pregame show “The NFL Today.”
By the time Sports Illustrated put Butkus on the cover of the 1970 NFL preview, and touted him as “The Most Feared Man In The Game,” his reputation was set. In a 1971 feature, Playboy described Butkus thusly: “To a fan, the story on Butkus is very simple. He’s the meanest, angriest, toughest, dirtiest son of a bitch in football. An animal, a savage, subhuman.”
“Dick was an animal,” Hall-of-Fame defensive end Deacon Jones said, according to NBC Sports Chicago. “I called him a maniac. A stone maniac. He was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital.”
Butkus would play into that reputation at times. That Playboy story in 1971 said Butkus once told a television reporter, “I sometimes have a dream where I hit a man so hard his head pops off and rolls downfield.” And every football fan has seen the well-worn NFL Films clips of Butkus destroying running backs who crossed his path.