Butkus , who achieved popularity in television and film acting with his unique personality before making a name for himself on the gridiron for his hometown Chicago Bears, has passed away at the age of 80, the team announced on Thursday.
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In a statement posted on social media by the Bears, a statement from his family said that Butkus peacefully passed away in his Malibu, California home during the night.
“The Butkus family is gathering with Dick’s wife, Helen. They appreciate your thoughts and support,” the family statement read.
Chicago Bears Chairman George H. McCaskey said, “Dick Butkus was one of the greatest players in the history of the NFL, and he was a son of Chicago. The game he loved, the game that he poured his soul into, will always be grateful that he came our way to play it, and we’re thankful to him for allowing us to celebrate with him one last time as our honorary captain this year.”
News of Butkus’s passing spreading so fast than an hour before the Thursday night game between the Bears and the Washington Commanders, which was set to kick off at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. Both teams and fans observed a moment of silence before the game.
A fierce tackler out of the University of Illinois, Butkus was a formidable force in the middle linebacker position for the Bears during his nine NFL seasons in the 1960s and 1970s, earning eight Pro Bowl selections.
According to the Bears’ website, Butkus believed that his intensity on the field depended on how the game should be played. When asked about his aggression, he once said, “I thought everyone should play that way, but I guess they didn’t because they claimed I had a special way of playing the game.”
After suffering a serious knee injury, Butkus retired at the age of 31 after playing a part of the 1973 season. In 1979, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, his first year of eligibility. Butkus was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
In 1985, Butkus established the Butkus Award, given to the top linebacker at the professional, collegiate, and high school levels.
The Bears retired Butkus’s number 51 jersey in 1994. He was named to NFL All-Decade teams – chosen by the Hall of Fame Selection Committee – for both the 1960s and 1970s, and he received votes for the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams.
According to ESPN’s report, Butkus ended his career with 1,020 tackles and 22 interceptions.
After retiring from the Bears, Butkus pursued acting and broadcasting, appearing in dozens of television shows and films, many of which featured former NFL players, including defensive lineman Bubba Smith.
He acted like Smith in a series of Miller Lite commercials and appeared on the silver screen in films like “Any Given Sunday,” “The Longest Yard,” and “Necessary Roughness.”
Butkus also worked as a radio broadcaster for the Bears for many years and was a panelist on CBS’s “The NFL Today” pregame show.
“I was intense.”
Born on December 9, 1942, in the Southeastern Fernwood neighborhood of Chicago, Richard Marvin “Dick” Butkus was the youngest of nine children and came from a Lithuanian-American, blue-collar family, according to his website biography.
Butkus, the biography states, began envisioning his future as a professional football player as early as the fifth grade.
“I worked hard to become what society said I should be,” Butkus said on his website. “It said you had to be tough. I was tough, Hard, Gruff.”
According to the Bears’ website, the athlete demonstrated his football skills at Chicago’s Vocational High School and the University of Illinois before being selected third overall in the 1965 NFL Draft.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell remembered Butkus as “a fierce and emotional competitor.”
Goodell said, “Dick’s intelligence, toughness, and athleticism made him the model linebacker, a name that will forever be associated with that position and the Chicago Bears.”