Legendary NFL Player and Hall of Famer Dies at 80

Tributes and reactions are pouring in from around the NFL and the sports world after Chicago Bears legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick Butkus passed away at the age of 80.

Butkus, who starred for the Bears from 1965 to 1973, had his number 51 retired by the team, and was considered one of the organization’s foremost ambassadors during his life.

Over his career, Butkus earned eight Pro Bowl nods, five All-Pro selections and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His No. 51 was retired by the Bears, and he has long been one of the team’s most iconic figures.

Before his NFL career, Butkus was a defensive star at the University of Illinois, and is one of only two players to have their numbers retired by the university.

Here’s a look at some of the tributes from across the sports world.

Bears Chairman George McCaskey:

“Dick was the ultimate Bear, and one of the greatest players in NFL history. He was Chicago’s son. He exuded what our great city is about and, not coincidentally, what George Halas looked 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. When we dedicated the George Halas statue at our team headquarters, we asked Dick to speak at the ceremony, because we knew he spoke for Papa Bear. Dick had a gruff manner, and maybe that kept some people from approaching him, but he actually had a soft touch. His legacy of philanthropy included a mission of ridding performance enhancing drugs from sports and promoting heart health. 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. We extend our condolences to Helen, Dick’s high school sweetheart and wife of 60 years, and their family.”

 NFL commissioner Roger Goodell:

“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 athleticism made him the model linebacker whose name will forever be linked to the position and the Chicago Bears. We also remember Dick as a long-time advocate for former players, and players at all levels of the game. The Dick Butkus Award and his foundation honored achievement on the field and service to the community among high school, college and NFL linebackers. Dick was a champion of clean sports as his ‘I Play Clean’ campaign helped raise awareness about the dangers of steroid use among high school athletes. We send our deepest condolences to the Butkus family, the Bears organization and the many fans and people he impacted throughout his life.”

Pro Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter:

“Near universally, Dick Butkus, a hometown hero in Chicago, was considered the person who defined the position of middle linebacker. He established a level of production and intensity few have matched. USA Today once called him the ‘gold standard by which other middle linebackers are measured.’ Playing in an era when middle linebacker became one of the game’s glamour positions — and several of Dick’s contemporaries also would end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — his name most often was cited first as the epitome of what it took to excel at the highest level. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dick’s wife Helen and their entire family. We will preserve his legacy for generations to come.”

Pro wrestling great Mick Foley:

Illinois coach Bret Bielema:

“I am saddened to learn of the passing of Dick Butkus, the greatest linebacker in football history. 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. He was an amazing person, as well as football player, and a loyal Illini. Dick embodied everything that Illinois football has represented in the past and what we look to represent into the future. His deep love for Illinois football will be honored and remembered forever.”

Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman:

“The friendship I formed with Dick is something I will always cherish. I am so grateful for the time I was blessed to spend with him and for the many moments that we shared. I will never forget how touched he was when I told him he was the inaugural member of the newly formed Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame, or how emotional he became in learning that we were building a statue in his honor. Nor will I forget dedicating that statue – on a brittle, windy, rainy day that was tailor-made for a ceremony celebrating the toughest man in football.” 

Former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon:

Former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher:

Son of the late Bears running back Walter Payton:

Chicago Bears wide receiver D.J. Moore:

Chicago Bears Coach Matt Eberflus:

“My condolences to the buck his family. My deepest sympathies to them. I had several chances to visit with Dick during the time that I’ve been here and it’s always great talking to him, you know, because he’s one of my idols growing up being a linebacker and we had some good talks about reading keys and a lot of different things but again, my condolences to the family for sure.”

Chicago Bears linebacker Tremaine Edmunds:

“Obviously a tremendous football player and an even better man. His legacy lives on. The work that he put in, the effect that he had on the city of Chicago, the effect that he had on the people around him, speaks for itself. My condolences go out to his family.”

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