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Bears legend Dick Butkus dies at 80

Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus, whose name became synonymous with the Chicago Bears and hard-nosed defense, has died, his family announced Thursday. Butkus was 80.

“The Butkus family confirms that football and entertainment legend Dick Butkus died peacefully in his sleep overnight at home in Malibu, California,” the family said in a statement. “The Butkus family is gathering with Dick’s wife Helen. They appreciate your prayers and support.”

Additional information was not yet provided.

The news came less than two hours before the Bears were slated to face the host Washington Commanders in a “Thursday Night Football” matchup. Fans at the Commanders’ FedEx Field observed a moment of silence for Butkus before the game.

“Dick was the ultimate Bear, and one of the greatest players in NFL history,” Bears chairman George McCaskey said in a statement. “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.

“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 said in a statement that Butkus “helped define the linebacker position” thanks to his intuition and toughness.

Born in Chicago, Butkus built his memorable football career in his home state, becoming an All-American at Illinois before joining the Bears in 1965.

Butkus became a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1969, 1970) and an eight-time Pro Bowl selection in a nine-year pro career before going on to work as a broadcaster, pitchman and actor.

One popular tale of Butkus’ toughness came from a game against the Green Bay Packers in 1970. Butkus was said to have hit Packers quarterback Bart Starr so ferociously that when Starr arose from the turf, he began walking to the wrong bench.

Butkus played 119 games for the Bears, tallying 22 interceptions, 27 fumble recoveries and at least 11 sacks during an era when defensive statistics weren’t closely kept.

He is a member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame and was named to the NFL’s 100th anniversary team. The annual award for the top linebacker in college football is named after Butkus.

“Some people were made to be doctors, others to be lawyers,” Butkus once said. “I was made to play football.”

–Field Level Media

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