Even when he entered this world 77 years ago, Dick Butkus made his presence felt. The youngest of eight children born in Chicago to Lithuanian parents John and Emma Butkus, he weighed 13 pounds, six ounces upon entrance. Growing up in Chicago’s South Side, Butkus eventually developed into a fierce football linebacker who hit like a Mack truck. In fact, in high school, it’s been reported that he made 70 percent of his team’s tackles for Chicago Vocational High School. In a word, Butkus was everywhere.
As a junior in 1959 at Vocational High, he was honored by the Chicago Sun-Times as the city’s High School Player of the Year. Though he sustained some injuries during his senior year, he was still recruited by several colleges and chose to attend the University of Illinois on a football scholarship. He played both center and linebacker for the Fighting Illini and won numerous awards including twice being named the team’s MVP and being named a consensus All-America selection in both his junior and senior years. For good measure, he finished sixth in Heisman balloting both years (1963 and ’64), a rare feat for a lineman and a defensive player.
The Chicago Bears selected him with the third pick overall in the 1965 NFL Draft. He was also selected by the Denver Broncos with the ninth pick in the second round of the AFL Draft. After weighing his options, Butkus decided to sign with his hometown Bears and play for legendary head coach, George Halas. For the record, Butkus was chosen by Chicago one pick ahead of fellow Hall of Famer, Gale Sayers, in the same NFL Draft. It was a profitable first round for the Bears.
Once he entered training camp, Butkus made an immediate impact. During his first season he finished third behind Sayers and San Francisco’s Ken Willard for Rookie of the Year honors and was named to his first of eight straight Pro Bowls. While the Bears recorded only one winning season (9-5 in ’65) during the entire tenures of Sayers and Butkus, the dynamic duo always stood out.
Butkus was a force in every game he played although a recurring right knee injury forced him to the sidelines for the last five games of his final NFL season (1973). He chose to retire in May of ’74 at the urging of his orthopedic surgeon. Butkus was 31 years old when he hung up his cleats. Six years later he was inducted into Canton as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Let’s take a look at the hard-hitting, eight-time Pro Bowler’s career through four key cards found in his nine-card Basic Set checklist.
This is the only recognized rookie card of very likely the greatest linebacker who ever played the game. This is the one that brings the most trading card value to an auction. There’s no doubt that opposing ball carriers had their very lives flash before their eyes when they saw the mean-spirited (oftentimes vicious) Butkus coming their way with a full head of steam. His rookie card shows him scowling (what else?) in a helmetless pose wearing his home whites.
The 198-card ’66 Philadelphia set is anchored by Butkus’s RC (#31) and that of Sayers (#38), as well as the last regular season card of fellow Hall of Famer Jim Brown (#41). With its white borders, the card is never easy to find with perfect centering and has a PSA Population of 1,050 of which none has ever earned the elite PSA Gem Mint 10 grade. Only eight have been deemed PSA Mint 9, while 154 others have been labeled PSA Near Mint-Mint 8. Using three different PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Near Mint 7: $635.22
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $2,128.33
PSA Mint 9: $31,915
The 1968 Topps Football release consists of 219 cards, each measuring 2-1/2″ wide by 3-1/2” high. The set was issued in two series and was the first set since Topps’ 1961 effort to feature players from the AFL and the NFL. Butkus’s first Topps card (#127) shows him either getting ready to receive a lateral from somebody (not likely) or getting ready to take somebody down (more likely). Either way, No. 51’s trademark grimace is featured in the company’s first of 21 straight years in which it was the only major manufacturer of football cards.
The card, which shows the Bears team logo over his left shoulder, reveals a PSA Population of 543 of which six have been graded PSA Gem Mint 10, one that sold at auction for $3,849 in January of 2019. Twenty-eight others have earned PSA Mint 9 status, and 154 more have been labeled PSA Near Mint-Mint 8. Using three different PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $83.99
PSA Mint 9: $424.50
PSA Gem Mint 10: $2,551.00
The 1970 Topps Football set consists of 263 cards, each one measuring 2-1/2″ wide by 3-1/2” high. Butkus’s card (#190) features a posed portrait of the mean middle linebacker (dare we say smiling?) placed within an oval and surrounded by a tan border; a color banner beneath that likeness reveals his name and team while a football design at the bottom right corner identifies him as a middle linebacker. The white border often makes it difficult to find the card with perfect centering.
The card has a PSA Population of 631 of which only two submissions have ever been graded PSA Gem Mint 10. Forty-five other examples have earned PSA Mint 9 status, while 251 more have been labeled in PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 condition. Using three different PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Near Mint 7: $20.00
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $45.00
PSA Mint 9: $165.00
The Topps 1971 Football set consists of 263 cards, each one measuring 2-1/2″ wide by 3-1/2” tall. The set was issued in two series, with the second series (#s 133 to 263) printed in slightly smaller quantities. Each card front features a posed player portrait surrounded by either a red (AFC), blue (NFC) or blue-and-red (All-Star) border. In Butkus’s case, on card #25, he was rewarded with the two-toned All-Pro border with his name in bright yellow at the top and his team name, position and a cartoon-like player icon illustrating his position appears at the bottom.
Dick’s card is one of the set’s anchors, along with Johnny Unitas (#1), George Blanda (#39), Larry Csonka (#45), Fran Tarkenton (#120), Gale Sayers (#150), Bart Starr (#200), Joe Namath (#250) and O.J. Simpson (#260), and the rookie cards of Terry Bradshaw (#156) and Joe Greene (#245). Butkus’s card has a PSA population of 720 with not a single submission registering as a PSA Gem Mint 10. Ten more examples were labeled PSA mint 9, while 148 others earned PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 status. Using three different PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Excellent 5: $12.50
PSA Near Mint 7: $30.56
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $107.59
Dick Butkus Cards Required to Complete the Set
(with PSA weights included)
- 1966 Philadelphia #31 Dick Butkus (10.00)
- 1967 Philadelphia #28 Dick Butkus (5.00)
- 1968 Topps #127 Dick Butkus (3.50)
- 1969 Topps #139 Dick Butkus (4.00)
- 1970 Topps #190 Dick Butkus (2.50)
- 1971 Topps #25 Dick Butkus (3,00)
- 1972 Topps #170 Dick Butkus (2.00)
- 1973 Topps #300 Dick Butkus (1.00)
- 1974 Topps #230 Dick Butkus (1.50)
Browse through images of the entire set within the image gallery section of the Set Registry.
Butkus played 119 games in the NFL, recorded 22 career interceptions for 166 return yards, recovered 27 fumbles and scored a total of 10 points (one fumble recovery touchdown, two extra points and one safety). He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and four years later was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
He then made a successful transition from the gridiron to the broadcast booth and was even featured in several major motion pictures and television series including “Hang Time” and “My Two Dads.” In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando, Florida created “The Dick Butkus Award” to honor the most outstanding linebacker at the high school, college and professional levels.
If you are looking for a fun project to piece together during the stay-at-home recommendations, collecting the nine-card Basic Set of Chicago Bears mainstay Dick Butkus on the PSA Set Registry is just the ticket.
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