clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Illinois legend Dick Butkus dies at 80

A heartbreaking day for Illini nation.

Michigan v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Illinois Football legend Dick Butkus has died at 80 years old.

Butkus, who played at Illinois from 1962-64, is among the greatest college football players of all time and considered to be one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history.

Born and raised in Chicago, Butkus was a linebacker and center for the Fighting Illini before playing his entire professional career with the Bears, where he was invited to eight Pro Bowls and named a First-Team All-Pro six times during his nine-season career (1965-73).

Chicago Bears Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Butkus redefined the middle linebacker position, setting the standard for his successors. Butkus finished his collegiate career with 374 tackles and was named 1964 Player of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983, and was an inaugural inductee into the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016. Butkus’ number 50 hangs on the press box at Memorial Stadium and he was immortalized with a statue in Champaign in 2017.

“I am saddened to learn of the passing of Dick Butkus, the greatest linebacker in football history,” said Illinois head coach Bret Bielema in a stadium on Thursday. “As the head coach of his alma mater that he loved, I had the great honor to meet Dick, one of my childhood idols, last September. His deep love for Illinois football will be honored and remembered forever.”

In addition to his on-field accomplishments Butkus enjoyed a lengthy post-playing career in film and television — he was a pitchman for products like Miller Lite & Visa, starring in sitcoms like My Two Dads and Hang Time, and appearing in movies including The Longest Yard, Mother, Jugs & Speed, and Any Given Sunday. Butkus also spent time in the broadcast booth as a color commentator for the Chicago Bears radio network and the original XFL.

“We grieve for his loss,” said Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman in a statement. “We take solace in the many wonderful gifts that Dick gave us, both on the gridiron and in the decades since he left it. On behalf of our entire Illini famILLy, we send our love and condolences to his wife, Helen, and the entire Butkus family, with a reminder that Dick Butkus may be gone, but his memory will live forever at the University of Illinois – a place that he permanently changed with his ferocious heart, his indomitable spirit, and his unshakable loyalty.”

Butkus had made many trips to Champaign over recent years and often posted about the Illini online. Our condolences go out to his family, friends, and fans.