CNN – Dick Butkus, the hard-hitting Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker who starred for his hometown Chicago Bears before his outgoing personality earned him popularity in television and film acting, has died at the age of 80, the team announced Thursday.
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.
“The Butkus family is gathering with Dick’s wife, Helen. They appreciate your prayers and support,” the family’s statement 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.”
“Butkus ended his career with 1,020 tackles and 22 interceptions, ESPN reported.”
News of Butkus’ death spread more than an hour before the Bears started a Thursday night game against the Washington Commanders. The teams and fans observed a moment of silence before the game at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
A ferocious tackler drafted out of the University of Illinois, Butkus was an imposing force as the Bears’ middle linebacker for his nine NFL seasons in the 1960s and 1970s, and made eight Pro Bowls.
Butkus thought his 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.
He retired at age 31 after playing part of the 1973 season, a few years after suffering a serious knee injury, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 …