Dick Butkus was NFL royalty
Dick Butkus, the Chicago Bears famous and ferocious Hall of Fame middle linebacker, passed away on Thursday. He was 80.
Butkus was a Chicago native who played his college ball at Illinois where he was highly decorated as both a center and middle linebacker. He was voted the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1963, as well as a Unanimous All-American. One year later, Butkus was voted a Consensus All-American and the UPI Lineman of the Year.
Butkus turned pro in 1965 when he was the third-overall draft pick by his hometown Bears. Chicago had a rich championship history and had won eight NFL titles–including one two years before Butkus arrived. Unfortunately for Butkus, his career mostly coincided with a period of mediocre-to-worse football for the Bears, as they failed to make the playoffs in each of his nine seasons in the league.
That didn’t stop Butkus from being elite and one of football’s best and most intimidating players. Butkus went on to earn eight trips to the Pro Bowl during his nine-year career. He was voted a First-Team All-Pro five times and a Second-Team All-Pro three times.
Butkus was considered to be the greatest middle linebacker of his time and the best middle or inside linebacker in the history of the NFL. Just how good was Butkus, really? He won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1969 and again in 1970 for a Bears squad that won a combined seven games–including just one in ’69.
Butkus transcended the Bears’ troubled times and became a sensation all by himself. His reputation as one of the game’s fiercest and hardest-hitting players was well-earned. Butkus intimidated with his style of play, as he often pushed the envelope as a means to strike fear into his opponents.
Imagine a talent like Butkus playing for the Bears in today’s era, an era that is about as troubled as it was for them in the 1960s and 1970s. I doubt he would have lasted in Chicago longer than his rookie contract before shuffling off to a better team after signing a lucrative, new deal.
It was different in the ’60s and ’70s, a time that didn’t include free agency but did include some of the nastiest middle linebackers of all time, including Ray Nitschke, Tommy Nobis and Jack Lambert.
Butkus was considered to be a cut above them all.
Even today, some 50 years after he retired, Butkus’s name is usually at the top of the list when discussing the greatest middle/inside linebackers of all time. Sure, someone like Mike Singletary, a fellow Bear who also won Defensive Player of the Year twice and was a Super Bowl champion, may have been just as decorated. Heck, Ray Lewis, who made 13 Pro Bowls, won two Defensive Player of the Year awards, and two Super Bowls during his 17 seasons with the Ravens, may have been even more decorated.
But Butkus has always been the gold standard for middle linebackers.
He likely always will be.
In that way, Butkus was the defensive version of Jim Brown, the famed Browns running back who retired in 1965 (also after nine seasons) but never stopped being the gold standard for the position all the way up until his death earlier this year.
Butkus was voted to the All-Decades Team for the 1960s and the 1970s. He became a First-Ballot inductee when he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. Butkus was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, as well as its 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.
Like Brown, Butkus was NFL royalty and will always have a place at the table of the NFL’s greatest players.
Butkus remained in the spotlight during the five decades after his retirement, as he became an actor who had 62 film and TV credits to his name–including appearances in movies like Brian’s Song, Necessary Roughness, and Any Given Sunday.
Dick Butkus accomplished a lot during his NFL career and his life after football. But it was at middle linebacker where he truly left his mark.
Just ask the countless offensive linemen, quarterbacks and ball carriers he intimidated during his nine-year career.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the late, great Deacon Jones regarding Butkus and his ferocious ways:
“Dick was an animal. 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.”