CHICAGO — The heart and soul of the Chicago Bears has died.
Hall of Fame Bears linebacker Dick Butkus died in his sleep Thursday night in his Malibu, California, home, according to a statement from the team. He was 80.
Butkus has long been a figure heralded as quintessentially Chicago, from his unforgiving hard hits on the field, to his gruff solo mustache, to his formative days bruising opponents at Chicago Vocational High School on the Far South Side and later for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Team chairman George H. McCaskey called Butkus “the ultimate Bear.”
“He was Chicago’s son,” McCaskey said in the statement. “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.”
Butkus spent his NFL career as a Bear from 1965 to 1973. The Bears never had a winning season during that time, but that didn’t stop Butkus from rumbling his way to 22 interceptions and 27 fumble recoveries and routinely making the bone-crushing rage plays that have become the calling card of what a formidable Bears defense should be like.
Chicagoans have debated that Butkus is the most feared player in NFL history, and maybe the best inside linebacker of all-time.
On the night of his passing, the Bears won their first game in their last 15 tries.
“He’s a Bears legend,” quarterback Justin Fields said after the game, which he said the team dedicated to Butkus. “He will never be forgotten.”
Here’s how Chicagoans, Bears fans and sports stars are remembering Butkus:
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