‘He was Chicago’s son’: Dick Butkus, the Hall of Fame Bears linebacker known for his toughness, dies at 80

Perhaps no participant within the Chicago Bears’ 104-year historical past higher epitomized the crew’s robust and decided id than Dick Butkus.

A product of Chicago’s working-class South Side and the University of Illinois, Butkus grew to become a fierce Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker earlier than embarking on a modest however enduring leisure profession in Hollywood.

“After football, it was difficult for me to find what I liked second-best,” Butkus as soon as instructed the Tribune. “Football was all the time my old flame. That definitely didn’t imply I couldn’t discover one thing else. And the proof of the pudding is the place I’ve ended up right now.

“I guess I could have been one of those guys who didn’t prepare to quit. But things happened and through hard work I found out that, hey, there are other things besides football.”

Butkus, 80, died “peacefully in his sleep overnight” at his residence in Malibu, California, the Butkus household mentioned Thursday.

In 2019, the Tribune ranked Butkus No. 2 in a listing of the 100 best Bears.

“Dick was the ultimate Bear and one of the greatest players in NFL history. He was Chicago’s son,” Bears Chairman George McCaskey mentioned in a press release. “He exuded what our nice metropolis is about and, not coincidently, what George Halas appeared for in a participant: toughness, smarts, instincts, ardour and management. He refused to just accept something lower than one of the best from himself or from his teammates. When we devoted the George Halas statue at our crew headquarters, we requested Dick to talk on the ceremony as a result of we knew he spoke for Papa Bear.

“Dick had a gruff manner and maybe that kept some people from approaching him, but he actually had a soft touch. His legacy of philanthropy included a mission of ridding performance-enhancing drugs from sports and promoting heart health. His contributions to the game he loved will live forever and we are grateful he was able to be at our home opener this year to be celebrated one last time by his many fans.”

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, in a press release, mentioned Butkus “embodied the strength and the tenacity of his hometown with every snap he played on the gridiron.”

“He was a true Monster of the Midway, but also an actor, a commentator and a statesman for all things representing our beloved blue and orange,” Johnson mentioned. “He was a giant of a player, and a man, and we will always remember his giant love and dedication to the City of Chicago.”

Born Richard Marvin Butkus on Dec. 9, 1942, he was the youngest of 9 youngsters of Lithuanian immigrants. His father, Don, was an electrician. His mom, Emma, labored in a laundry. Butkus grew up within the Roseland neighborhood and performed highschool soccer for coach Bernie O’Brien at Chicago Vocational.

At Illinois, Butkus performed middle and linebacker from 1962-64 and was a unanimous All-American in 1963 and ‘64. In 1963 Butkus won the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as the Big Ten’s Most worthy participant, and in 1964 he was named the American Football Coaches Association participant of the yr. Butkus completed sixth in Heisman Trophy balloting in 1963 and third in ‘64, and he completed his faculty profession with 374 tackles.

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman mentioned in a press release that “the Greatest Living Illini has left us.”

“Dick Butkus was a giant in a land of giants,” Whitman mentioned. “In a game built on toughness and tenacity, he stood alone. One of the most imposing figures to ever wear a helmet, away from the field, Dick was self-effacing, humble and generous. A cultural icon, Dick leaves a legacy on Americana that will never be forgotten.”

The Bears drafted Butkus within the first spherical of the 1965 draft with the No. 3 decide — one spot earlier than they took one other future Hall of Famer, operating again Gale Sayers, making it one of the crucial productive drafts by one crew in NFL historical past.

The Denver Broncos of the then-fledgling American Football League additionally drafted Butkus within the first spherical in 1965.

Butkus’ standing as one of many best of all time is outstanding contemplating he by no means made the playoffs and loved simply two successful seasons in his nine-year profession.

He was simply that good — and ferocious.

Butkus’ spotlight reels are surprising for his or her violence, tapping into part of himself that even essentially the most hardened soccer gamers discover tough to achieve. He merely had no regard for his opponents.

Rams defensive finish Deacon Jones, a Hall of Famer and one of the crucial feared defensive gamers ever, as soon as mentioned: “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.”

But Butkus was greater than only a hard-hitting linebacker. He additionally was deftly expert in go protection, racking up 22 interceptions.

Butkus began all 119 video games he performed. He was named first-team All-Pro 5 instances and second-team as soon as and was voted to the Pro Bowl after his first eight seasons. He’s the Bears’ all-time chief with 27 fumble recoveries.

“Near universally, Dick Butkus, a hometown hero in Chicago, was considered the person who defined the position of middle linebacker,” Pro Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter mentioned in a press release. “He established a degree of manufacturing and depth few have matched. USA Today as soon as known as him the ‘gold standard by which other middle linebackers are measured.’

Butkus was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1978. The NFL named him to its all-decade groups for each the Sixties and Seventies in addition to its seventy fifth and one hundredth anniversary all-time groups.

In 1994, the Bears retired the jersey numbers of Butkus (51) and Sayers (40) throughout a stormy halftime ceremony at Soldier Field.

Butkus, whose enjoying profession was minimize brief due to a number of knee accidents, left the Bears with bitter emotions.

He filed a lawsuit in 1974, asserting that the Bears knowingly inspired him to maintain enjoying when he ought to have had surgical procedure on his knees. The litigation brought on friction between Butkus and Halas.

The events finally reached an out-of-court monetary settlement, and the connection between Butkus and the Bears improved through the years.

Trading on his tough-guy picture, Butkus loved a second profession as a sports activities broadcaster, actor and sought-after pitchman for merchandise starting from antifreeze to beer. Whether the script known as for comedy or drama, Butkus often resorted to enjoying himself, usually along with his gruff exterior masking a softer facet.

He appeared in “The Longest Yard” in 1974 and a dozen different characteristic movies over the following 15 years, in addition to the motion sequence “Blue Thunder” and sitcoms “My Two Dads” and “Hang Time.” He returned to the Bears as a radio analyst in 1985 and joined CBS’ “The NFL Today” pregame present in 1988.

“Dick Butkus was a fierce and passionate competitor who helped define the linebacker position as one of the NFL’s all-time greats,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell mentioned in a press release. “Dick’s instinct, toughness and athleticism made him the mannequin linebacker whose title will eternally be linked to the place and the Chicago Bears.

“We also remember Dick as a longtime advocate for former players and players at all levels of the game.”

The Butkus Foundation was shaped to deal with his charitable endeavors. His most passionate initiative was the “I Play Clean” marketing campaign, which concentrates on educating younger athletes in regards to the risks of utilizing steroids.

The Butkus Award was established in 1985 to acknowledge the highest linebackers in highschool, faculty and the NFL annually. The award additionally makes use of service to the group as a part of its standards.

Butkus is survived by his spouse, Helen, and youngsters Ricky, Matt and Nikki.

Fred Mitchell is a former Chicago Tribune sports activities author. Will Larkin, additionally previously of the Tribune, and the Associated Press contributed.