Butkus died “peacefully in his sleep overnight at home in Malibu,” California, a statement from his family, posted by the Bears on social media, reads.
Butkus was “the ultimate Bear, and one of the greatest players in NFL history,” Chicago Bears chairman George H. McCaskey said.
“He was Chicago’s son,” McCaskey said. “His contributions to the game he loved will live forever and we are grateful he was able to be at our home opener this year to be celebrated one last time by his many fans.”
A ferocious hitter drafted out of the University of Illinois, Butkus was an imposing force as the Bears’ middle linebacker for all nine of his NFL seasons in the 1960s and 1970s, and made eight Pro Bowls.
He retired after playing part of the 1973 season, a few years after suffering a knee injury, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year eligible.
The Bears retired Butkus’ No. 51 jersey in 1994. Butkus was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Teams – selected by a Hall of Fame committee – for both decades he played, and was voted to the NFL’s 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams.
Butkus thought the intensity on the field was simply how the game should be played, according to an article on the Bears’ website.
“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,” he said when asked about his ferocity, according to the article.
Butkus ended his career with 1,020 tackles and 22 interceptions, ESPN reported.
‘I was fierce’
Richard Marvin “Dick” Butkus, a Chicago native, was born December 9, 1942, in the city’s south-side Fernwood neighborhood, according to a biography on his website.
Butkus was the youngest of nine children and came from a blue-collar family of Lithuanian descent.
He began envisioning his future as a professional football player by the fifth grade, the biography reads.
“I worked hard at becoming one, just like society says you should,” Butkus said, according to his website. “It said you had to be fierce. I was fierce. Tough.”
The athlete showcased his football skills at Chicago Vocational High School and the University of Illinois before being selected with the third pick in the 1965 NFL Draft, according to the Bears’ website.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell remembered Butkus as “a fierce and passionate competitor” on Thursday.
“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.
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