We’re finally in the Top 10 in our countdown of the Top 100 Chicago Bears! These are the most dominant and elite figures in the storied Chicago Bears history. As we get closer to the season opener, we get closer to naming the #1 Chicago Bear of all time.
The Bears selected MLB Dick Butkus with the 3rd overall pick in the 1965 draft. Butkus was a two-time All-American MLB & center at the University of Illinois, who also won the American Football Coaches Association Player of the Year and finished 3rd in the Heisman voting as a senior. The Bears also drafted Gale Sayers with the next pick in the first round, it was a pretty good day for the Bears. Butkus was also drafted by the Broncos in the AFL and supposedly offered more money to join the AFL, but Butkus wanted to play in the more prestigious NFL and play for his hometown Bears.
Despite the presence of Hall of Fame MLB Bill George, Butkus earned the starting gig as a rookie. When asked about losing his job to Butkus, George, a 14-year veteran at the time, responded:
“The second I saw him on the field (at training camp) I knew my playing days were over,” George said. “Nobody ever looked that good before or since.”
It didn’t take Butkus long to make an impact, in his first start Butkus had 11 tackles. As a rookie, Butkus led the Bears in tackles, interceptions, forced fumbled and fumble recoveries. He was an unstoppable beast in the middle of the Bears defense from day 1. In most seasons Butkus would have been a lock for Rookie of the Year, but back then they didn’t have separate awards for offense and defense, so the ROY went to teammate Gale Sayers. Butkus missed out on the ROY award, but did make both the ALL-NFL team and Pro Bowl in his rookie season. He would go on to make 6 total All-NFL squads and go to 8 consecutive Pro Bowls.
Butkus led the Bears in tackles for 8 consecutive years, averaging 120 solo stops and 58 assists per year. By the time he retired, Butkus had set a then NFL record with 27 fumble recoveries; They didn’t keep track of forced fumbles but he undoubtedly would have held that record as well. Butkus led the Bears in interceptions for most of his career and in 1967 he had a career high 18 sacks, he could truly do it all on the defensive side of the field. He was known for his angry, ferocious play, but he was an excellent athlete with the speed to range sideline-to-sideline and cover RBs and TEs. He was such a good athlete that he returned 12 kicks, caught two passes for extra points, and had a 28 yard run on a botched punt.
He was known as the most feared defensive player in the league. There are plenty of good quotes from opposing players about Butkus but my favorite is this one from Green Bay running back MacArthur Lane who said:
“I’d sooner go 1-1 with a grizzly bear than face Dick Butkus. I pray that I can get up every time Butkus hits me”
Butkus was so feared that he was even on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1970 with the caption “The Most Feared Man in the Game”. It was true that Butkus played angry, he admitted to convincing himself in warm-ups that opposing players were laughing at him or making fun of his teammates to get extra riled up. Eventually, Butkus’ intense style of play led to injuries. He suffered his first serious knee injury in 1970. He had offseason surgery on the knee, but it didn’t heal properly. Butkus played through the pain for the next few seasons without a noticeable drop in results, he still led the Bears in tackles and made the Pro Bowl in both ’71 & ’72. The knee finally gave out on Butkus in ’73 and he took himself out of a game against Atlanta due to the pain and then retired from football a few weeks later.
In his 9 years with the Bears, Butkus made 1,020 tackles, intercepted 22 passes and had 27 fumble recoveries. He also made 8 Pro Bowls, 6 All-NFL teams, won two NFL Defensive Player of the Years awards (’69, ’70), and was a first-ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame in 1979. Post retirement, Butkus has been named to two all-decade teams by the NFL (60s, 70s) and was rated as the 10th best player of all time by NFL.com. The Bears have had a number of great Hall of Fame caliber MLBs, but Butkus is the best of the them and set the precedent for how a Bears MLB should play.
What do you think of the ranking? Too high? Too low? I guess you’ll have to check back to see who finished ahead of him to judge for yourself. We’ll be counting down a different person each day as we inch our way to the September 7th season opener.