Dick Butkus, a fearsome linebacker who terrorized offenses during a Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Bears, has died at age 80.
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.
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"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 coincidently, what George Halas looked for in a player: toughness, smarts, instincts, passion and leadership," Bears Chairman George McCaskey said in a statement.
Butkus' family confirmed his death on Thursday, saying he had died in his sleep.
"The Butkus family confirms that football and entertainment legend Dick Butkus died peacefully in his sleep overnight at home in Malibu, California," a statement read. "The Butkus family is gathering with Dick’s wife Helen. They appreciate your prayers and support. Additional information will be provided when it is available.'
After he was drafted in the 1965 NFL Draft, Butkus played 10 seasons with the Bears, mixing a ferocious approach with brilliant play. He played and started in 119 games, recording 22 interceptions, 27 fumble recoveries, 11 sacks, one touchdown and one safety.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement praising Butkus' toughness, and his lasting impact on the game and on the lives of many young athletes in the U.S.
"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," he said.
In recent weeks, Butkus was present for the Bears' Week 1 game against the Packers at Soldier Field. He was honored with a slew of Bears alumni before the game. Butkus was interviewed on the big screen and declared the Bears to "kick the Packers' a--!"
We will have more on this story as it develops.