#RespectYourElders: Richard (Dick) Marvin Butkus, 76, is a former Chicago Bears linebacker and NFL Hall of Fame athlete. He’s considered one of the best football players in history and played his entire career in the state of Illinois.
Butkus was born in Chicago and weighed an impressive 13 pounds 6 ounces as a baby. He grew up in the Roseland neighborhood on the city’s South Side and played football at Chicago Vocational High School. Butkus played several positions in high school, but was particularly effective as a linebacker. As a junior, the Chicago Sun-Times awarded him the Chicago High School Player of the Year Award — the first time a player of that age was awarded that honor.
Butkus attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign from 1962 to 1964, three hours away from his hometown. By this time, he was 6 feet 3 inches and 245 pounds, which was large for a center and linebacker in the ’60s. His size and skill helped him lead the Fighting Illini to the 50th Rose Bowl in 1964, where they defeated the Washington Huskies; Butkus recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass while leading a defensive squad that kept Washington at bay.
During his college career, he was a two-time consensus All-American, three-time All-Big Ten and the 1963 Silver Football Award winner. His collegiate success propelled him to the NFL; with the third overall pick, the Chicago Bears drafted him to play linebacker in 1965, keeping his career rooted in Illinois.
In the NFL, Butkus made a name for himself as being tenacious, violent, and unstoppable. The linebacker admitted to finding ways to upset himself before the game to fuel his aggressive playstyle. Butkus growled, yelled and punished any offense that got in his way.
“I wouldn’t ever set out to hurt anyone deliberately unless it was, you know, important, like a league game or something,” Butkus once said.
“If I had a choice, I’d sooner go one-on-one with a grizzly bear,” former Green Bay Packers running back MacArthur Lane said, according to ESPN. “I prayed that I could get up every time Butkus hit me.”
His aggressive style of play caused him to deal with his fair share of pain: in 1971, Butkus had surgery to help repair a chronic knee injury. After two years of hospital visits and complications, he retired from football in 1973.
Butkus ended his career with 1,020 tackles, 489 assists and 22 interceptions. The bruising linebacker was also an eight-time Pro Bowl pick and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. In 1979, Butkus became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Both the University of Illinois and the Chicago Bears retired his jersey, No. 50 and No. 51, respectively, due to his historic career.
After retirement, Butkus spent time as a sports commentator and actor. He also established the Butkus Foundation which advances health and wellness through special initiatives.
Last month, The Chicago Sun-Times released a list of the 100 Greatest Bears of All Time; Butkus is third, behind only Walter Payton and Sid Luckman.