The NFL lost perhaps the greatest linebacker in league history on October 5 with the passing of legendary Hall of Famer Dick Butkus.
Dick Butkus was a legend who embodied what it means to be a Chicago Bear. Our hearts go out to his family and friends. pic.twitter.com/8UEVuuZLwi— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) October 5, 2023
Butkus was known as one of the most fearsome defenders to ever play the game and for good reason. The man was an absolute menace whenever he took the field. Hall of Fame linebacker Bill George played for the Chicago Bears and immediately saw the damage a rookie Butkus could do to an opposing offense.
“The second I saw him on the field (at training camp) I knew my playing days were over,” George said via Larry Schwartz of ESPN. “Nobody ever looked that good before or since.”
Due to the ascension of Butkus, George would play in just two games in 1965 before finishing his age-37 season with the Los Angeles Rams.
During the 1965 season, LA was introduced to the Bears’ ferocious prized linebacker. In his rookie campaign, Butkus snagged five interceptions, the first of which came during a Week 4 blowout of the Rams at Wrigley Field that Chicago won 31-6.
Dick Butkus in his home NFL debut for the #Bears — a 31-6 rout of the Rams at Wrigley Field.— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) October 6, 2023
Butkus gets his first career interception — his facemask is yanked and helmet ripped off by Tommy McDonald, ironically the last NFL non-kicker to play without a facemask.
Butkus reacts.… pic.twitter.com/VnDyYOA4wY
Butkus began his career when the “Fearsome Foursome” was taking off in Los Angeles. The Rams went 32-7-3 and won two division titles with their defensive front four leading the charge. LA was also one of the hardest teams to score on in that timeframe, giving up only 196 points in 14 games in 1967 while allowing the fewest rushing yards in the NFL from 1964-68. Butkus once called them, “the most dominant line in football history.”
Key member of the “Fearsome Foursome”, Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones, famously complimented Butkus for his style of play:
“Dick was an animal. I called him a maniac, a stone maniac. He was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital.”
Butkus won the first of back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1969 when the Bears suffered through a particularly trying campaign.
Forgot Dick Butkus won Defensive Player of the Year in 1969, when the Bears went 1-13. It would be like if Aaron Donald won DPOY and the Rams went 2-15 lol— Gus Bus #Rip51 (@GusSolano44) October 6, 2023
I’m originally from Central Illinois, roughly an hour away from Champaign where Butkus initially made his mark at the University of Illinois. I remember going to a couple Illinois games and looking up to see the retired #50 belonging to Butkus adorning the Memorial Stadium facade. Sometimes I would even imagine what it would’ve been like watching the iconic linebacker patrol the field during his college days.
For someone who possesses a deep appreciation for NFL history, losing such a legendary player has left me feeling as winded as a ballcarrier who had gotten leveled by a Butkus hit. Any discussion surrounding his placement among fellow NFL greats is irrelevant. Let’s remember Butkus for his play on the field and what became of him once he walked away from the game he loved.
There will truly never be another Dick Butkus which is a shame. His era of professional football where “quarterback killers” were plenty is long gone. Thankfully, we’ll always have this poem to make anyone nostalgic for the good ol’ days:
Hellava time to be a quarterback...quarterback killer Deacon Jones shares a poem he wrote about fellow quarterback killer Dick Butkus...#NFL #Rams #Bears #LA #Chicago @NFL_Journal @The_ChrisMyers @RamsNFL @HOFClaude2014 @Super70sSports @theblood85 pic.twitter.com/TJeoLVFQD8— Roman Gabriel for Pro Football Hall of Fame (@RGabriel4HOF) August 25, 2020