is an American former professional football player, sports commentator, and actor. He played football as a linebacker for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL) from 1965 to 1973. Through those nine seasons he was invited to eight Pro Bowls, named a first-team All-Pro six times, and was twice recognized by his peers as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Renowned as a fierce tackler and for the relentless effort with which he played, Butkus is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most intimidating linebackers in pro football history.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Butkus played his entire football career in his home state, which began at Chicago Vocational High School. As a college football player at the University of Illinois, he was a linebacker and center for the Fighting Illini. A two-time consensus All-American, he led the Illini to a Rose Bowl victory in 1963 and was deemed the most valuable player in the Big Ten Conference, and in 1964 he was named college football’s Lineman of the Year by United Press International (UPI). He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
Butkus was drafted by the Bears as the third overall pick in the 1965 NFL Draft. He soon established himself as a ball hawk with his penchant for forcing turnovers. In his NFL career, he intercepted 22 passes, recovered 27 fumbles (a record when he retired),[a] and was responsible for causing many more fumbles with his jarring tackles. His tackling ability earned him both admiration and trepidation from opposing players. According to Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones, Butkus “was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital.” In 2009, the NFL Network named Butkus the most feared tackler of all time.
Butkus is credited with having defined the middle linebacker position, and is still viewed as the “gold standard by which other middle linebackers are measured.” He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, and his No. 51 jersey is retired by the Bears. Following his playing career, Butkus began careers in acting, sports commentary, and celebrity endorsement. He is active in philanthropy through the Butkus Foundation, which manages various charitable causes.
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