Chicago Bears mourn the loss of Hall of Famer Dick Butkus

The Chicago Bears and the NFL world are in shock and grief after the news of the passing of Dick Butkus, one of the greatest linebackers and players in the history of the game. Butkus, who was 80 years old, died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Malibu, California, on Thursday, his family confirmed.

A legend on and off the field

Butkus was born and raised in Chicago, where he became a star at Illinois before joining the Bears as the third overall pick in the 1965 draft. He played nine seasons for his hometown team, earning eight Pro Bowl selections, five first-team All-Pro honors, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

Butkus was known for his ferocious and intimidating style of play, as well as his leadership and passion for the game. He is widely regarded as one of the best defensive players ever, and his name is synonymous with the Bears and their tradition of excellence on defense. He was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, and the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team.

Butkus was also a successful broadcaster, actor, and pitchman after his retirement from football. He appeared in several movies and TV shows, such as “Brian’s Song”, “The Longest Yard”, “Necessary Roughness”, “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”, “My Two Dads”, and “Hang Time”. He also endorsed products such as Miller Lite, Coca-Cola, Nike, and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. He remained close to the Bears organization and their fans, often attending games and events at Soldier Field. He was at the Bears’ home opener this season against the Green Bay Packers on September 10.

Tributes pour in from across the league

The news of Butkus’ death was met with an outpouring of tributes and condolences from his former teammates, opponents, coaches, colleagues, and admirers. The Bears released a statement from chairman George McCaskey, who called Butkus “the ultimate Bear” and “one of the greatest players in NFL history”.

“He was Chicago’s son. He exuded what our great city is about and, not coincidentally, what George Halas looks for in a player: toughness, smarts, instincts, passion and leadership,” McCaskey said. “He refused to accept anything less than the best from himself or from his teammates. … 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.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also issued a statement, praising Butkus for his impact on the game and his legacy.

“Dick Butkus helped define the linebacker position with his intuition and toughness,” Goodell said. “He was a leader on one of the most dominant defenses in NFL history and a beloved figure in Chicago. He inspired generations of players with his relentless pursuit of excellence and his love for football. We extend our deepest sympathies to Helen, their children Rick, Matt, Nikki and Betsy, their grandchildren and the entire Butkus family.”

Many current and former players also expressed their admiration and respect for Butkus on social media. Some of them include:

  • Tom Brady: “Rest In Peace to one of the greatest to ever play the game. Dick Butkus was a legend on and off the field. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
  • Aaron Rodgers: “Sad to hear about the passing of Dick Butkus. He was a fierce competitor and a true gentleman. I had the honor of meeting him a few times and he always had a smile on his face. One of the best ever.”
  • Khalil Mack: “Dick Butkus was one of my idols growing up. He played the game with such passion and intensity that I tried to emulate. He was a legend in Chicago and beyond. RIP #51.”
  • Brian Urlacher: “Dick Butkus was more than just a teammate to me. He was a mentor, a friend, and a brother. He taught me so much about football and life. He was one of a kind. I will miss him dearly.”
  • Mike Singletary: “Dick Butkus was my hero when I was a kid. He showed me what it meant to be a linebacker and a leader. He was a great man who loved his family and his community. He left an indelible mark on this game and this world.”

A moment of silence before Thursday night’s game

The news of Butkus’ death came less than two hours before the Bears were scheduled to face the Washington Commanders in a Thursday night game at FedEx Field. The teams observed a moment of silence for Butkus before kickoff, as did fans across the country who tuned in to watch the game. The Bears also wore a #51 decal on their helmets in honor of their fallen legend.

Butkus is survived by his wife Helen, his four children Rick, Matt, Nikki, and Betsy, and his grandchildren. The family has requested privacy and has not announced any funeral arrangements yet. They have also asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Butkus Foundation, which supports various causes such as health and wellness, education, and environmental issues.

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