Legendary NFL Films President Steve Sabol, in his 48th
year filming the NFL, recently labeled Dick Butkus the “greatest defensive
player” of all time. “A force of unmanageable proportions, he was Moby Dick in
a goldfish bowl,” Sabol wrote. “His career as the middle linebacker for the
Chicago Bears stands as the most sustained work of devastation ever committed
on a football field by anyone, anywhere, anytime. …No one played harder or
better than Dick Butkus.”
The Butkus Award sets out to recognize those qualities that defined Dick’s
career, heavily factoring the following five traits: toughness (playing through
pain with a warrior mentality), on-field leadership (intimidating presence and
respected tone-setter), competitiveness (passion, intensity and relentless
effort), football character (work ethic, drive and determination) and
linebacking skills (instincts, tackling, striking, balance, knee bend,
shedding, cover skills, blitzing).
In 2008, Butkus took stewardship of the Award with the
intent to support the “I Play Clean campaign” aimed at educating the youth of
America and the world on the dangers of performance enhancing drugs. On top of
honoring the top collegiate linebacker, recognized since1985, the Butkus
Foundation began to pay tribute to the top linebacker at the high school and
The Butkus Committee is comprised of 51 voters stemming from
the NFL, college and high school ranks, including many NFL general managers and
head coaches, NCAA head coaches and defensive coordinators and seasoned NFL
talent evaluators who have been heavily exposed to the nation’s top
linebackers. The committee was initially constructed to equally represent all
regions of the country to eliminate any bias. Neither Dick nor any of his
family are members of the committee.
Watchlists are compiled for the high school and college
awards in August at the direction of the committee, with heavy input from high
school and college coaches, recruiters and pro scouts. No watchlist is supplied
for the NFL, where nearly every linebacker is truly deserving. A Butkus winner
need not be on the preliminary watchlist to earn the award, as some candidates
tend to emerge from the shadows.
A list of 10 to 15 high school and college semi-finalists is
determined in October after careful consideration and dialogue among the Butkus
Committee and again trimmed to five finalists in late November, based on input
from the committee who has spent the year closely scrutinizing the candidates.
In cases where ties need to be broken, the Butkus Committee
recognizes the players who have best demonstrated strength of character on and
off the field and who can be trusted to serve as role models to the future
generation of linebackers.
Voters who have not been exposed enough to the group of
finalists at any level are asked not to vote, as only the most informed
opinions are sought. Select committee members are sent tape of the five high
school finalists and asked to rank them 1 through 3, with the first-place
winner receiving three points, the second-place finisher two and third, one.
Votes are tallied in the same manner at the college and NFL levels, with voters
asked to rank their top three linebackers. All committee members’ votes are
submitted in secret and kept completely confidential. Pro Football Weekly’s
Publisher, Hub Arkush who is a founding member of the committee, compiles and
tallies votes and only the vote totals are released to the public after a
winner is selected. Voters are allowed to write-in candidates.
The Butkus Foundation strictly adheres and complies with all
rules and regulations of the NFL, NCAA and high school governing bodies.