Dick Butkus “The Animal”

Daniel Collins

Written by: Daniel Collins


Read Time: 3 minutes

When it comes to NFL linebackers, Dick Butkus had a monopoly on intimidation.

The compliments and awards flowed in throughout his high school, college, and professional career, but the best might have been in 2009 when the NFL Network dubbed Butkus the most feared tackler of all-time.

Chicago Bears fans can certainly attest to that. They watched the often angry Butkus crush opposing ball carriers all over the field from 1965 to 1972.

Staying in Illinois

The Bears even got a big win before Butkus played a game. After a standout college career at Illinois, Butkus was chosen in the NFL Draft by the Bears and in the AFL Draft by Denver Broncos. Both teams recruited him, but he decided to play for his hometown Bears for less money.

Butkus hit the ground running in his rookie season; he was named first-team All-Pro for the first time, and he earned that honor five more times, including all four seasons from 1967-70. In 1969 and 1970, he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

He is credited with more than 1,000 tackles in his career. He also intercepted 22 passes and recovered 27 fumbles. At the time, those 27 fumble recoveries were an NFL record.

Intimidating Reputation

The gaudy statistics were nice, but Butkus’ reputation was the real story of his career. At 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 245 pounds, Butkus was an imposing figure even when he was standing still. Once he flashed his speed and power, opponents wanted nothing to do with him.

Though forced fumbles were not an official NFL statistic while he played, Butkus had been expected to have led the league in that category multiple times because he was so good at ripping the ball from his opponent’s grasp.

Butkus could get sideline to sideline and often sought to inflict pain even when it wasn’t necessary. One time he intercepted a pass from Minnesota Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton near the goal line. Instead of walking into the end zone for an easy touchdown, he ran straight for Tarkenton.

Major Honors

Butkus was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 – his first year of eligibility. He was also named to the 1960s and 1970s All-Decade teams. In 1994, the Bears retired his No. 51 jersey, and in 2004 the Bears included Butkus on a sculpture with seven other former Bears greats at Soldier Field.

The relationship between Butkus and the Bears was not always great. He retired with four years remaining on a five-year contract. The contract included medical and hospital care, which the Bears refused to provide him, Butkus said.

Butkus’ lawsuit against the Bears’ team doctor was settled out of court when the Bears agreed to pay Butkus the full value of his contract.

Butkus and team owner George Halas did not speak for five years following the settlement.

Giving Back

Butkus has given back throughout his life following his playing career, mostly through the Butkus Foundation.

First given in 1985, the Butkus Award honors the best linebackers at the high school, college, and professional levels.

The non-profit Dick Butkus Center for Cardiovascular Wellness helps identify those who are at risk for heart disease and sudden cardiac death.

Butkus’ I Play Clean Campaign educates high school athletes on the dangers of steroids and how to train and eat well so they can be at their best without using performance-enhancing drugs.

Butkus has had a robust acting career, too. He has appeared in more than ten movies, including “The Longest Yard” and “Any Given Sunday” and was a regular character on several TV shows, including “Blue Thunder” and “My Two Dads.”