The Chicago Bears confirmed Thursday that linebacker Dick Butkus, a hard-hitting member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who played for his hometown team before becoming well-known for his exuberant personality in acting roles on television and in movies, had passed away at the age of 80.
According to a message from his family published by the Bears on social media, Butkus passed away “peacefully in his sleep overnight at home in Malibu,” California.
“The Butkus family is present, along with Helen, Dick’s wife. They value your prayers and encouragement, the family says in a statement.
According to Chicago Bears owner George H. McCaskey, Butkus was “the ultimate Bear and one of the greatest players in NFL history.”
He was a Chicago native, McCaskey declared. “His contributions to the game he loved will endure forever, and we are thankful he was able to attend this year’s home opening to be honoured by his devoted followers one final time.
More than an hour before the Bears’ Thursday night game against the Washington Commanders began, word of Butkus’ passing circulated. Before the game at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, the teams and spectators observed a moment of silence.
Butkus, an imposing middle linebacker for the Bears during his nine NFL seasons in the 1960s and 1970s, was a fierce tackler who was selected out of the University of Illinois. He was also a member of eight Pro Bowls.
According to a piece on the Bears’ website, Butkus believed that his zeal on the pitch was simply the proper way to play the game.
When asked about his aggressiveness, he stated, “I thought that was the way that everybody should have played, but I guess they didn’t because they were claiming that I had a special way of playing.”
After playing for a portion of the 1973 season and retiring at age 31, a few years after sustaining a devastating knee injury, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, the first year he was eligible. In 1983, Butkus was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
The Butkus Award, which recognises the best linebacker at the professional, collegiate, and high school levels, was established in 1985.
In 1994, the Bears retired Butkus’ No. 51 uniform. For both of the decades he played, Butkus was picked by a Hall of Fame committee for the NFL All-Decade Teams. He was also elected to the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams.
Butkus ended his career with 1,020 tackles and 22 interceptions, ESPN reported.
After leaving the Bears, Butkus entered the acting and broadcasting worlds, starring in a variety of television programmes and motion pictures, frequently with former NFL defensive player Bubba Smith, according to the Bears website.
The formerly active athlete appeared in episodes of “MacGyver,” “Hang Time,” “Half Nelson,” “Blue Thunder,” and “My Two Dads,” among other programmes. In several Miller Lite commercials, Butkus co-starred alongside Smith. He also made appearances in films like “Any Given Sunday,” “The Longest Yard,” and “Necessary Roughness.”
Butkus was also a panellist on “The NFL Today” pregame show on CBS and worked as the Bears’ radio announcer for a number of years.
“Dick’s intuition, toughness and athleticism made him the model linebacker whose name will forever be linked to the position and the Chicago Bears,” Goodell said.
‘I was fierce’
According to a biography on his website, Chicago native Richard Marvin “Dick” Butkus was born on December 9, 1942, in the Fernwood neighbourhood on the city’s south side.
Butkus, who was the youngest of nine children, was from a working-class Lithuanian family.
By the fifth grade, his destiny as a professional football player had already begun to take shape, according to the biography.
According to Butkus’ website, “I worked hard at becoming one, just like society says you should.” You had to be fierce, it said. I was tough. Tough.”
According to the Bears’ website, the player demonstrated his football prowess at Chicago Vocational High School and the University of Illinois before being chosen with the third selection in the 1965 NFL Draught.
On Thursday, Butkus was recalled as “a fierce and passionate competitor” by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.