LAKE FOREST, Ill. — It was a day to honor one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise, but it won’t be the only time the Bears will have Dick Butkus on their minds this season.
That’s because the team has a way in which they’ll honor the Hall of Fame linebacker for their remaining 11 games of the 2023 campaign.
Among the many tributes the Bears had to the legend during Sunday’s game against the Vikings was a No. 51 patch on the team’s jerseys. That is the number that Butkus had during his time with the team that was retired on October 31, 1994.
That will remain for the rest of the 2023 season in a rare gesture by the franchise.
It’s a reminder of the importance of Butkus to the franchise, who was voted as the second-best in team history behind Walter Payton in 2019 in a list of top 100 players compiled by the Bears in celebration of their 100th anniversary.
A Chicago native and standout at Chicago Vocational School and the University of Illinois, Butkus was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1969, 1970) and five-time NFL first team All-Pro during his time with the Bears from 1965 to 1973.
He was also an eight-time Pro Bowler and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
Paying tribute to players on jerseys is a rarity for the franchise, with the team last doing so in this fashion in the last eight games of the 1999 season.
That’s when players sported the No. 34 on their uniforms in honor of Walter Payton, who died at the age of 45 from complications from bile duct cancer on November 1 of that season.
The Bears also wore a No. 91 patch for the end of the 1990 season and two NFC playoff games in honor of defensive tackle Fred Washington, who was killed in a car crash on December 21 of that year.
Following the death of team founder George S. Halas in 1983, the Bears wore a “GSH” patch for the remainder of that season. Starting the next year and continuing to this day, the Bears wear those initials on the sleeves of their jerseys.