Who is Dick Butkus?
Humble Beginnings: Dick Butkus as a Young Boy
Dick Butkus was born December 9, 1942, in the Fernwood neighborhood on Chicago’s south side to a blue-collar family of Lithuanian descent. The youngest of nine children, Butkus learned early to compete and work hard for what he wanted and his place in life. By the fifth grade, he had already decided he was going to become a professional football player. In his own words recalling his younger years, Butkus said, “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.”Butkus’ ferocious intensity and drive for achievement was first recognized when he attended Chicago Vocational High School. While receiving his education, he rose in the ranks as a star football player. It was during these years where Butkus first developed his skills to strip the ball and pulverize opposing players on the gridiron.
Dick Butkus’ College Years
Butkus’ drive, his intense focus, and determination to be a great football player led him to the University of Illinois in 1961. By 1963, his junior year, Dick had already made 145 tackles and 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, Butkus was unanimously named an All-American; astonishingly playing both sides of the ball as center on offense and linebacker on defense. He was also a top contender for the Heisman Trophy, balloting both years, where he finished sixth in 1963, and third in 1964 (the highest defensive vote getter during that time). Butkus’ dedication to the sport was evident, given his innate talent and drive for the game.
In later years, Butkus had is jersey “number 50” retired by the University of Illinois. To this day, he is only one of two players to ever receive such an honor, alongside the legendary Harold “Red” Grange’s jersey number 77.
In 1983, Butkus would be named to the College Football Hall of Fame where his legacy remains, largely considered one of the greatest college football players of all time.
Chicago Bears, Number 51
In 1965, Butkus was drafted into the NFL by his home team, the Chicago Bears. With his addition, the Midway had a brand-new lease on their future. Butkus’ years of training in college, combined with years of a powerful work ethic, led to greatness. Debuting in his now iconic jersey “number 51” in the white, burnt orange, and navy blue we all know and love, Butkus recorded 11 solo tackles in his first game. Dick Butkus, as a rookie, made an entrance into the Chicago Bears organization that served as the catalyst for dramatically reversing their fortunes and improving their struggling defense. In his first year, Butkus 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, who was drafted by the Bears during the same year.
Ranging from sideline to sideline with speed, quickness, and quick 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, and also excelled at pass coverage against tight ends and running backs, finishing his NFL tenure 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 in his giant footsteps.
Part of what has made Dick Butkus and the number 51 a household legend is his legendary success as a fierce competitor. By his own admission, Butkus has said his ability to play with anger played a prime factor in his career.
"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 opponents of his era would grudgingly concur.
A Hall of Fame Career
By 1970, injuries started to take a toll on Dick Butkus’ knees. It was during that time that he suffered his first of a series of knee injuries, and as with all athletic injuries of massive proportions, he never fully recovered.
Nonetheless, in the last three years of his career, he gave it his all. Butkus played through the pain, registering 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, Butkus had been named first-team All-NFL for 6 years, and played in 8 consecutive Pro Bowls. His career totals now include 1,020 tackles and 489 assists.
Awards and Career Highlights
Dick Butkus Movies and TV Shows
For Dick, the end of his football career meant the beginning of a new chapter. Set on working hard and to contribute to the brand he had so earnestly built, Butkus ventured into acting. His outgoing personality and rugged persona served him well in many a movie roles and TV commercials. In the first of what would become a long-running series of Miller Light ads, he portrayed a gentlemanly tennis player who cheerfully debates the beer's merits with fellow ex-NFL defensive star Bubba Smith. The tag line from that advertising campaign "Tastes Great! Less Filling!” would become a household phrase.
Butkus has also appeared in motion pictures such as “Necessary Roughness” and “Any Given Sunday.” He was also a regular character on TV shows such as “My Two Dads” and “Hang Time.”
He last appeared in the ESPN Original Entertainment series “Bound for Glory.” The series followed Dick as he coached a real-life high school football team for an entire season.
Dick Butkus Today
Retired from football and doing less acting these days, Dick lives in Southern California with his wife of 57 years. He has enjoyed a beautiful life as a football player and actor, but also as a father to his three children, and as a grandfather to five grandchildren.
Dick Butkus remains a part of football history, present, and future and loves to share his stories and enthusiasm for the game. From his charitable work with The Butkus® Foundation to honoring elite individuals with The Butkus Award®, Dick continues to give back.
He also enjoys speaking with football fans and appearing at events. If you would like to inquire about an appearance, speaking engagement, or signing from Dick Butkus, please contact us for more information.
And if you are wondering...Yes, he can still crush running backs!!