It is fitting that Richard Marvin "Dick" Butkus hails from Chicago, Illinois; the city and state with which he will always be identified. He was born December 9, 1942, in the Fernwoodsection of Chicago’s south side to a blue collar family of Lithuanian descent.
The youngest of nine children, he learned early on to compete and work hard for what he wanted and his place in life. By the fifth grade, he had already decided he was to become a professional football player. In his own words and recollections of his younger years he was quoted as saying, "I worked hard at becoming one (football player), just like society says you should. It (society) said you had to be fierce. I was fierce. Tough. I was tough."
Dick's ferocious intensity and drive for achievement first came to the public's attention when he attended Chicago Vocational High School. Along with his school training he rose in the ranks as a star football player.
His drive, his intense focus and determination led him to the University of Illinois in 1961. By 1963, his junior year, Dick had already made 145 tackles forced 10 fumbles, leading Illinois to the Big Ten championship. The team finished the season ranked third in the nation, and went on to defeat Washington in the Rose Bowl, 17-7
By 1964 his name was Unanimous to an All-American player; playing as center and linebacker. He was a top contender in the Heisman Trophy balloting both years, finishing sixth in 1963, and third in 1964 (highest defensive vote getter during that time)given to his innate talent and drive. His jersey number, 50, was one of only two ever retired by the University of Illinois, the other being 77, worn by the legendary Harold "Red" Grange. Eventually, Dick would be named to the College Football Hall of Fame (1983). He is generally considered one of the greatest college football players of all time.
In 1965, he was drafted by his NFL home team, the Chicago Bears, and with the addition of Dick the Midway had a brand new lease on their future. The years of training in college and his work ethic combined led to 11 solo tackles in his first game and served as the catalyst for dramatically reversing the fortunes of a Bears defense that had been struggling. He was a top contender for NFL Rookie of the Year honors, but was edged out by his teammate and fellow first-round draft pick, the spectacular Gale Sayers, drafted by the Bears the same year.
Ranging from sideline to sideline with speed, quickness, and instinct, the 6-3, 245-lb. Butkus terrorized opposing ball carriers and quarterbacks. His mauling style of tackling was worthy of a grizzly bear. Adept at forcing fumbles, he recovered 27 in his nine-year career. He also excelled at pass coverage against tight ends and running backs, and finished his career with 22 interceptions. Most of all, he was the undisputed leader of the Chicago Bears defense, epitomizing the clean, hard-nosed, brutal athleticism that set the standard for every NFL middle linebacker who followed.
Part of his legendary success, by his own admission, was his ability to play with anger. "When I went out on the field to warm up, I would manufacture things to make me mad," he said. "If someone on the other team was laughing, I'd pretend he was laughing at me or the Bears. It always worked for me." No doubt, many an opponent of his era would grudgingly concur.
In 1970 he suffered the first of a series of knee injuries. As with all athletic injuries of massive proportions he never fully recovered. Nonetheless, in the last 3 years of his career he gave it his all, played on through the pain and registered 117 tackles and 68 assists, recovering three fumbles, and intercepting four passes in 1971 (a testimony to his character, strength, and dedication).
By the time he retired in 1973, Dick had been named first-team All-NFL six years, and played in eight consecutive Pro Bowls. His career totals now include 1,020 tackles and 489 assists.
For Dick, the end of his football career meant the beginning of a new chapter. Relentless to work and to contribute to the brand he had so earnestly built he ventured into acting. His outgoing personality, rugged persona served him well in many a movie role and TV commercial. In the first of what would become a long-running series of Miller Light ads, he played against type, portraying a gentlemanly tennis player who cheerfully debates the beer's merits with fellow ex-NFL defensive star Bubba Smith. Overnight, the campaign's tag line "Less Filling! Tastes Great!" was a household phrase. He has also appeared in motion pictures such as Necessary Roughness and Any Given Sunday, and as a regular character on TV shows such as My Two Dads and Hang Time.
He last appeared in the ESPN Original Entertainment series titled Bound For Glory. The series followed Dick as he coached a real-life high school football team for an entire season.
Dick lives in Southern California with his wife of 57 years, his three children, and five grandchildren. And if you are wondering...Yes, he can still crush running backs!!
Awards and Career Highlights
8× Pro Bowl (1965–1972)
6× First-team All-Pro (1965, 1967–1970, 1972)
2× Second-team All-Pro (1966, 1971)
2× NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1969, 1970)
NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
NFL 1960s All-Decade Team
NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
Chicago Bears No. 51 retired
UPI Lineman of the Year (1964)
Big Ten Most Valuable Player (1963)
2× Consensus All-American (1963, 1964)
Illinois Fighting Illini No. 50 retired
1979 inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame
1983 inducted into College Football Hall of Fame
2016 Inducted into University of Illinois Athletic Hall of Fame