American Football Database
Dick Butkus
Dick Butkus in 1984
No. 51     
Personal information
Date of birth: (1942-12-09) December 9, 1942 (age 79)
Place of birth: Chicago, Illinois
High School: Chicago Vocational
Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) Weight: 245 lb (111 kg)
Career information
College: Illinois
NFL Draft: 1965 / Round: 1 / Pick: 3
AFL Draft: 1965 / Round: 2 / Pick: 9
Debuted in 1965 for the Chicago Bears
Last played in 1973 for the Chicago Bears
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics as of 1973
Tackles     1,020
Interceptions     22
Fumble Recoveries     27
Stats at
Pro Football Hall of Fame
College Football Hall of Fame

Richard Marvin "Dick" Butkus (born December 9, 1942) is an American former football player for the Chicago Bears. He was drafted in 1965 and he is also widely regarded as one of the best and most durable linebackers of all time. Butkus started as a football player for the University of Illinois and the Chicago Bears. He became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. He played nine seasons in the NFL for the Chicago Bears. Billed at 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m), 245 lb (111 kg), he was one of the most feared and intimidating linebackers of his time, being named the most feared tackler of all time by in 2009.[1]

Early life

The youngest of eight children of an immigrant family from Lithuania, Richard Marvin "Dick" Butkus grew up in the Roseland neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. He played high school football for coach Bernie O'Brien at Chicago Vocational High School.

Although he eventually played for the Bears, Butkus being a South-sider grew up a fan of the Chicago Cardinals, attending their games at Comiskey Park and watching Thanksgiving game between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers.[2]

College career

Butkus played center and linebacker from 1962 through 1964 at the University of Illinois. He was twice a unanimous All-American, in 1963 and 1964. He won the Chicago Tribune Silver Football in 1963 as the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player, and was named the American Football Coaches Association Player of the Year in 1964. Butkus finished sixth in Heisman Trophy balloting in 1963 and third in 1964, a rare accomplishment for both linemen and defensive players.

He finished his college career with 374 tackles.[3]

Butkus is a member of The Pigskin Club of Washington, D.C., which recognizes National Intercollegiate All-American football players.

After his university years, Butkus continued to receive recognition. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983, and is one of only two players to have a uniform number (#50) retired by the University of Illinois football program (the other the #77 of Harold "Red" Grange). Butkus was named to the Walter Camp All-Century team in 1990, and was named the sixth-best ever college football player by College Football News in 2000. In 2007, Butkus ranked #19 on ESPN's Top 25 Players In College Football History list.

In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando, Florida created an award in his name. The Dick Butkus Award is given annually to the most outstanding linebacker at the high school, college, and professional levels as chosen by a nationwide panel of 51 coaches and sportswriters. In 2008, control of the award was relinquished to the Butkus Foundation, based in Chicago, Illinois.


Butkus was drafted in the first round by both the Denver Broncos of the American Football League and his hometown team, the Chicago Bears of the NFL. He signed with the Bears and did not play professionally with any other team. Along with fellow Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, Butkus was one of three first round picks for the Bears in 1965 NFL Draft, having used the pick they acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Butkus and their own pick on Sayers. The team also drafted defensive end Steve DeLong, however he chose to play for the AFL's San Diego Chargers for the first seven years of his professional career.

Butkus was selected to eight Pro Bowls and was all-league six times. In his rookie season, Butkus led the Bears in tackles, interceptions, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries, and regularly led the team in these categories throughout his career. Butkus recovered 27 fumbles in his career, an NFL record at the time of his retirement. He was one of the most feared players of his era and even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1970 with the caption "The Most Feared Man in the Game." He had one of his most productive seasons in 1970 with 132 tackles, 84 assists, 3 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries. He was forced to retire after multiple knee injuries in 1973.

One of Butkus' greatest strengths was his ability to rip the ball from a ball carrier's hands. Although back then the statistic was not kept, it has been noted that Butkus would certainly be one of the all-time leaders in the forced fumbles category.

At one point, Butkus gained a reputation as one of the meanest players on an otherwise bad Bears team in the late 1960s, and during his tenure, the Bears were 48-74.[4] During the 1969 season in which the Bears finished 1-13, the team played against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wrigley Field in what would ultimately be the Bears' only win that season. During the game, an incident with the Steelers' then-rookie "Mean Joe" Greene led to Greene spitting into Butkus' face and challenging him to a fight after Butkus committed what Greene considered a dirty hit on a teammate of Greene's.

Butkus filed a lawsuit against the Bears in 1975, claiming the Bears knowingly kept him on the field when he should have had surgery on his knees. The Bears denied Butkus and their other players the right to seek second opinions with doctors other than the Bears team doctor. The team would also distribute painkillers so that Butkus, a major gate attraction, would be active.[citation needed]

Because of the lawsuit, Butkus' relationship with owner George Halas became icy. Butkus did return to the Bears as a color analyst on radio broadcasts in 1985, teaming with first-year play-by-play man Wayne Larrivee and former St. Louis Cardinals quarterback Jim Hart.

Butkus was also selected the 70th Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century by ESPN,[5] the ninth-best player in NFL history by The Sporting News, and the fifth-best by the Associated Press. The National Football League named him to their All-Time team in 2000. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. He was named as head coach of the XFL's Chicago Enforcers franchise but was replaced with coach Ron Meyer for the league's only season in 2001. Instead, Butkus served as the league's Director of Competition.

After football

Since his career as a player, Butkus has become a well known celebrity endorser, broadcaster, and actor. He has appeared in films such as The Longest Yard (on the practice team), Gus, Cracking Up, Necessary Roughness, Any Given Sunday, Mother, Jugs & Speed, Hamburger... The Motion Picture and Johnny Dangerously, and as a regular character on TV shows such as Blue Thunder, My Two Dads, and Hang Time. In the critically acclaimed TV movie Brian's Song (1971), he portrayed himself.[6] He also, made one television appearance on the first episode of the 1976 ABC hit Rich Man, Poor Man, where he played 'Al Fanducci', a World War II army soldier who gets into a street brawl with 'Tom Jordache' (played by Nick Nolte). In 1980, Butkus portrayed Brom Bones in the television movie production of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Butkus also appeared in episodes of Coach, Growing Pains, The Rockford Files, MacGyver, Murder, She Wrote, Emergency!, The Six Million Dollar Man and Magnum, P.I..

Butkus was hired as the replacement for Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder on CBS' pregame show The NFL Today in 1988, serving as an analyst through 1989.

Butkus promoted the "Qwik-Cook Grill," a grill utilizing newspaper as its main fuel, on TV infomercials in the '90s.[7] Butkus starred in a 2009 FedEx commercial entitled "I'm Sorry Dick Butkus," developed by BBDO New York. In this commercial, Butkus is brought in to help a small business go global.[8]

Butkus' son, Matthew, played college football at USC as a defensive lineman, and joins his father in philanthropic activities such as the "I Play Clean" campaign. Butkus' nephew, Luke Butkus, was hired on February 19, 2007, as the Bears' offensive line coach, and in 2010 joined the Seattle Seahawks staff in a similar position.[9] He joined the Jacksonville Jaguars as assistant offensive line coach on January 28, 2013.

In 2006, Butkus was brought into McKees Rocks, Pa., to be the head coach for the Montour Spartans at Montour High School to bring back their glory days. The year 2006 the Montour Spartans made it to ESPN's reality show Bound For Glory during when Dick Butkus was the head coach for the Spartans, along with former Kansas City Chiefs coach Ray Crockett and the current head coach for the Spartans, Lou Cerro.


Through The Butkus Foundation, Butkus has supported many charitable causes following his NFL career. The Butkus Foundation, Inc. was formed to manage the receipt and disbursement of funds for his charitable causes.[10] These causes include:

  • The I Play Clean Campaign addresses the issue of steroids among high school athletes. The campaign educates and encourages high school to train and eat well, without resorting to illegal steroids and performance enhancing products.[11]
  • The Butkus Award, instituted in 1985, is one of the elite individual honors in college football. The Butkus Foundation takes stewardship of the award recognizing athletic achievement and service to the community while honoring the nation’s best high school, college, and professional linebackers. An independent Butkus Award Selection Committee, headed by Pro Football Weekly’s Hub Arkush, is composed of 51 people, including professional, college, and high school scouts, and sports journalists. This committee conducts the selection process.[12]
  • The Dick Butkus Center for Cardiovascular Wellness is a nonprofit organization in Orange County, California with a cardiac screening program that uses specialized testing to help identify those at risk of heart disease and sudden cardiac death.[13]

Personal life

Butkus married Helen Essenberg in 1963. Together they have three children: Ricky, Matt, and Nikki.


  1. "Top Ten Most Feared Tacklers: Dick Butkus". 2009-07-01. Retrieved 2014-03-24.
  2. 75 Seasons: The Complete Story of the National Football League. He was an outstanding player., p. 16.
  4. Hopkins, Doc (2013-03-22). "Chicago Bears Breakdown: The Best 8 Players in Team History". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved 2013-03-22.
  5. "Top N. American athletes of the century". Retrieved 2008-09-30.
  6. Marill, Alvin H. (1987). Movies Made For Television: The Telefeature and the Mini-series, 1964-1986. New York: Baseline/New York Zoetrope. pp. 53–4. ISBN 0-918432-85-5.
  7. The Qwik-Cook Grill, a review article by Steven Hicks. Retrieved 2010-02-25.
  8. I'm Sorry Dick Butkus. Retrieved 2010-02-25.
  9. Rivera won't return to Bears for 2007 season by Larry Mayer, February 17, 2007. Retrieved 2010-02-25.
  10. The Butkus Foundation. Retrieved 2010-02-25.
  11. I Play Clean&#8482 Campaign. Retrieved 2010-02-25.
  12. Butkus Awards. Retrieved 2010-02-25.
  13. The Dick Butkus Center for Cardiovascular Wellness. Retrieved 2010-02-25.

External links