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.