Dick Butkus, middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears, died Thursday, the team announced. The former player, whose speed and ferocity set the standards for his position in the modern era, was 80.
According to a statement from the Bears, Butkus’ family confirmed that the former athlete died in his sleep at his home in Malibu, California. Butkus was selected as a member of the All-Pro All-Pro team five times. He was elected to the Pro Bowl in eight of his nine seasons before a knee injury forced him into retirement at age 31.
He was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility, and is still considered one of the best defensive players in league history.
“Dick Butkus was a fierce and passionate competitor who helped define the linebacker position as one of the NFL’s all-time greats. Dick’s intuition, toughness and athletic virtues made him the model linebacker, whose name will forever be linked to this position and the Chicago Bears,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We will also remember Dick as an advocate for former players, for players at all levels of the sport for years to come.”
A moment of silence was held in memory of Butkus before the Bears faced the Washington Commanders in Thursday night’s game.
Butkus was the rare professional athlete who spent his entire career near his hometown. He was a linebacker, fullback and kicker at Chicago Vocational High, and attended the University of Illinois.
Born on Dec. 9, 1942, the youngest of eight children, he grew up on the South Side and was a fan of the Bears’ rival Chicago Cardinals.
But after being drafted in the first round of the 1965 draft by the Bears and Denver Broncos — then members of the now-defunct American Football League — Butkus opted to remain in Chicago and play for NFL founder coach George Hallas.