Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff: 51 Days with Dick Butkus

Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears / Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
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Today marks just 51 days until the start of the NFL season, meaning that Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff brings us to the life and career of the best player in franchise history to don the number 51, Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus.

Dick Butkus's path to the Chicago Bears

Dick Butkus would eventually become nearly synonymous with Chicago Bears football, a fitting relationship considering that Butkus himself hails from the Chicago south side neighborhood of Fernwood. Growing up the youngest of nine children, Butkus was committed early in his life to becoming a professional football player, with his first steps coming as a teenager at Chicago Vocational High School.

There, Butkus started to emulate the punishing and stingy linebacker that he would become in later years and quickly turned into one of the most dominant high school athletes in the state of Illinois. At the end of his high school career, Butkus garnered attention from several top, nearby collegiate programs, but ultimately elected to stay in state and play for the University of Illinois.

As an Illini, Butkus quickly became a hometown hero in the Big 10, and earned a reputation as one of the best college linebackers of all time, while splitting time on offense as a center. At 6' 3" and over 225 lbs, Butkus used his long frame to punish the team's opposing ball carriers and was a turnover machine throughout his career. In each of Butkus's final two seasons in college, the linebacker was named a consensus All-American player twice and led the team to a Big 10 championship and Rose Bowl championship as a sophomore.

Over his collegiate career, from 1962 to 1964, Butkus was named to three All-Big 10 teams and set a school record for most tackles in a game with 23. As a senior, Butkus finished the season third in the Heisman race. Nonetheless, following the completion of his collegiate career, Butkus entered his name into both the 1965 NFL and AFL Drafts.

While Butkus would be selected in the second round of the AFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, he didn't have to wait nearly that long in the NFL Draft, with the Chicago Bears taking the in-state product with the third overall pick. Coincidentally, the Bears used the fourth overall to bring in Gale Sayers, making the 1965 NFL Draft class perhaps the best in team history.