CHICAGO — The football world is mourning the loss of one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the game and one of the best athletes to come out of the City of Chicago.
Dick Butkus, a College and Pro Football Hall of Famer who first made a name for himself on the high school gridirons of the city, has died at the age of 80.
In a statement released through the Bears, the family confirmed that he died in his sleep overnight at his home in Malibu, California. They are gathering with Butkus’ wife, Helen, who was his high school sweetheart, and are appreciative of prayers and support of Dick.
A native of the South Side, Butkus was a star at Chicago Vocational School and then the University of Illinois, where he was a two-time All-American and Big Ten Most Valuable Player in 1963.
His No. 50 has been retired by the University of Illinois.
Drafted by the hometown Bears with the third overall pick in 1965, Butkus’ toughness and speed made him one of the greatest defensive players in history, making him the example for many linebackers to follow in coming years.
The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year was named the second greatest player in Bears’ history in 2019, the same year that he made the league’s 100th anniversary all-time team. Butkus’ No. 51 was retired on Oct. 31, 1994, alongside Gale Sayers, who was also drafted in 1965.
The linebacker was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility.
Retiring in the spring of 1974, Butkus was a pitchman for a number of products while also acting in film and television. He also had a run as an NFL radio and television analyst, including the WGN-AM calls of Bears’ games during the 1985 Super Bowl championship season.
In 2001, Butkus was hired to be the head coach of the XFL’s Chicago Enforcers, but would instead move into the league office as the director of competition for its one season of existence.
Over the last 20 years, Butkus has made a few appearances in Chicago for events and for Bears games. He’d recently joined his son, Matt, in a series of tailgates for the “Team Butkus” organization to raise money for charity.
Butkus attended his first tailgate of the 2023 season before the opener against the Green Bay Packers, where he was honored with other Bears’ alumni at Soldier Field.
Growing up in Roseland on the South Side, Butkus made a name for himself at CVS and decided to attend Illinois and play for head coach Pete Elliott. From 1962 through 1964, he established himself as one the best linebackers and centers in the country, being named an All-American his last two years.
In 1963, Butkus helped Illinois to the Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl victory over Washington on Jan. 1, 1965, which is the last time the Illini have won that game. In 1964, he was named the UPI’s Lineman of the Year while finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Butkus played only linebacker with the Bears, where he was immediately a force for the team in the middle of the defense. He was a five-time first team All-Pro, three-time second team All-Pro, and an eight-time Pro Bowler.
In 1969 and 1970, Butkus was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, setting the standard for which linebackers would be measured for years to come.
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