Where Are They Now - Dick Butkus
June 20, 2014
Richard "Dick" Butkus - MLB 1962-1964
Arguably, the most feared defensive player ever to play the sport, Dick Butkus played both center and middle linebacker for the Illini. Butkus is one of only two players in the history of Illinois Football to have their jersey number retired (the other is Harold "Red" Grange's #77). Also, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983. Stellar play helped earn the Illini a Rose Bowl victory over Washington in 1964. In 1963 and 1964, Butkus was an unanimous All-American selection, while also finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1963 and in third place in 1964. On ESPN's Top 25 Players in the History of College Football list, Butkus ranked #19. After his Illini days, accolades continued to storm in as the Dick Butkus Award, was created in his honor. This prestigious award is presented annually to the nation's most outstanding linebacker in college football.
Butkus was selected in the first round of the 1965 NFL Draft by his hometown team, the Chicago Bears. Success followed him from his college days in the NFL as Butkus was selected to eight Pro Bowls, and was all-league six different seasons. Around the league, Butkus was soon considered the meanest player in the NFL as his on-field aggression reflected on game day. In 1970, Butkus showcased pure dominance, recording 132 tackles, 84 solo, three interceptions, and two fumble recoveries. Multiple knees injuries forced Butkus to retire in 1973. Butkus was selected the 70th Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century by ESPN and the ninth best player in NFL history by The Sporting News. The Chicago Bears have retired Dick Butkus' jersey number (51) as well.
After his football playing days, Butkus has appeared in several acting and production roles on television, also serving as an analyst. Butkus married Helen Essenberg in 1963 while both were students on the UI campus and together gave birth to three children, Ricky, Matt and Nikki.
TODAY, Butkus remains active within several charities and foundations across the U.S., also staying in touch with his Fighting Illini football family. The Butkus Foundation coordinates the "I Play Clean" Campaign to end steroid abuse among young athletes. The Dick Butkus Center for Cardiovascular Wellness is a nonprofit organization in Orange County, Calif., with a cardiac screening program that uses specialized testing to help identify those at risk of heart disease and sudden cardiac death. Dick and Helen live in Malibu.