Longtime Washington defensive lineman Dave Butz dies at 72

1976 NFC Divisional Playoff Game - Washington Redskins v Minnesota Vikings
Getty Images

Dave Butz, a massive defensive tackle who played 16 seasons in the NFL, has died at the age of 72.

The 6-foot-7, 291-pound Butz was the heaviest player in the NFL when he arrived as the fifth overall pick in the 1973 NFL draft, and he would make an enormous impact throughout his NFL career.

Originally drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, Butz and his agent staged a holdout throughout training camp and the preseason before finally signing a highly unusual rookie contract that was structured as a series of one-year contracts. That decision would loom large over his NFL future.

After playing well as a rookie in 1973, Butz suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of 1974. Then in 1975, as a result of that highly unusual rookie contract, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle ruled that Butz was a free agent, but that any team signing him would have to send fair compensation to the Cardinals.

Butz ended up signing a contract with Washington, and Rozelle ruled that fair compensation for a player of Butz’s talents was two first-round picks and a second-round pick, so that’s what Washington had to send to St. Louis.

It was worth it: Butz became the centerpiece of Washington’s defensive line for years to come. He won two Super Bowl rings in Washington, was a first-team All-Pro, and was named to the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team.

Wrote the legendary sportswriter Jim Murray, “It’s either Butz or the Washington Monument, the two most prominent edifices in the nation’s capital.”

One of the most famous moments of Butz’s career came on a Sunday in 1987 when he was so sick that he had been hospitalized, but he checked himself out of the hospital to play in Washington’s game, sealed the win with a sack of Jets quarterback Ken O’Brien, and then went back to the hospital.

“When I think of Dave, I think of all the great plays he’s made for us over the years,” longtime Washington coach Joe Gibbs said upon Butz’s retirement. “I think of him coming out of the hospital two years ago to play against the New York Jets. He made one of the biggest plays in the game, and then he checked back into the hospital afterward.”

Butz’s helmet was often scratched and pockmarked with the scars of combat in the trenches. Millions of football fans will remember him that way, as the huge man with the scuffed helmet that caused nightmares for opposing quarterbacks.

31 responses to “Longtime Washington defensive lineman Dave Butz dies at 72

  1. This guy was great. He played some NT concepts, too, which is rare for a guy that tall. Classic overachiever and a lunch pail guy.

    Madden loved him.

  2. Prayers to the Butz family and friends. So sorry to hear this sad news. He was a heck of a player and that helmet….epic!

  3. GreAt player to watch ! This week has not been kind to us older folks…Ray guy and Butz.

  4. Loved when John Madden would talk about him and hisold scratched up helmet. When real men played football. Today meh.

  5. Ive been a Giants fan since the late 70’s when I was in grammar school. Butz was a terror. What a beast he was. RIP.

  6. RIP Dave. I remember during a game back in the early 80’s when Madden & Summeral displayed a graphic on screen showing Butz as the heaviest lineman in the NFL, which was in the low to mid 300s back then. Condolences to his family & friends.

  7. RIP. 72 is too young for anyone. The world was blessed by your talents and your person. Peace.

  8. One of my all time favorite players. An unmovable object. He was a great on some great teams. May he RIP.

  9. In addition he was the nephew of Earl Butz, the former United States Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents Nixon and Ford, his uncle held the Cabinet post during his first season in Washington.

  10. The funniest thing Madden said about him was how wide his feet were. He said it like he wears Kleenex boxes.

  11. Very sad news. Butz was a mainstay and a BEAST. One of the best interior defensive linemen to ever play the game. Period. It’s criminal that he isn’t in the HOF.

  12. One of my more enjoyable images of him was the Wheaties commercial he did with #34 of the Bears. RIP to both.

  13. One of the best run stoppers to play the game. He was like two nose guards in one. I love to watch this guy play. RIP Big D.B.

  14. Prayers and condolences from Eagles nation. Super Bowl 22 was the first SB I ever watched and Washington played lights out all night. RIP big man.

  15. Imagine these coddled “Wednesday, maintenance day” players these days going in and out of the hospital to play? yeah, me neither.

  16. Harryglyphics says
    Still don’t understand why the thumbs down on R.I.P ‘s

    I know why because they are a bunch of insensitive idiots…
    It’s a travesty of Justice that this Man is NOT in the Hall of Fame..in 16 seasons he only missed 4 games and was voted on the NFL 80’s All Decades team..even if they put him in now it’s a shame not to honor this guy before he passed away…

  17. touchback6 says:
    November 4, 2022 at 12:29 pm
    This guy was great. He played some NT concepts, too, which is rare for a guy that tall. Classic overachiever and a lunch pail guy.

    Madden loved him.

    The 5th overall pick!!! Great player no doubt but overachiever? No way. That type of production is what GMs expect from that slot.

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