Dave Butz, stalwart of Washington’s 1980s defenses, dies at 72

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Dave Butz acquired a reputation as a kind of gentle giant during his long NFL career, an idea he avoided in the 1980s by becoming a threat to quarterback opponents.

“Every quarterback I hit knows I hit him,” Butz said after retiring after the 1988 season.

Butz, the huge lineman who helped anchor the defense of Washington’s NFL team in the 1970s and 1980s and was part of two Super Bowl-winning teams, has died, the team announced Friday. He was 72. The cause of death was not disclosed.

After a standout college career with Purdue that eventually brought Butz into the College Football Hall of Fame, the St. Louis Cardinals selected him as the fifth pick of the 1973 NFL draft. Butz played only two seasons with St. Louis before leaving bitterly. (a hatred that would continue throughout his career with Washington, who went on to play the Cardinals twice a year as rivals to NFC East). While Butz was technically a free agent who could sign with whichever team he chose, at the time the NFL rules dictated that the team that signed a free agent must compensate its former team. That didn’t bother Washington Coach George Allen, who in 1975 paid the Cardinals what was then the largest free agent fee in NFL history: first-round draft picks in 1977 and 1978, plus a second-round pick in 1978.

Allen would call it “one of the best trades I’ve ever made,” although Butz quickly came to Washington after sustaining a serious knee injury and would start just 18 of 42 games in his first three seasons in DC. But Butz eventually became a reliable left tackle presence on the Washington defensive line, starting all but one game for the rest of his career.

Just huge at six feet tall and over 300 pounds—he also wore size 12EEEEEEE cleats—Butz eventually became Washington’s foremost runner, his helmet showing yearly scars from his trench warfare with offensive linemen.

From 1984: When Butz is inspired, mountains are moved

Butz’s pass-rush skills would soon present themselves as well. In the strike-shortened 1982 season, Butz finished second on the team with 4.5 sacks when Washington won its first Super Bowl title, and the defense limited the Miami Dolphins to 16 yards in the second half of Super Bowl XVII. The following year, Butz’ best, registered a career-high 11.5 sacks and earned Pro Bowl and all-pro honors for the only time in his career, disproving critics who question his perceived lack of a villainous streak.

“If you mean I have the ability to blindside a quarterback or hit him in the middle of the back as he throws the ball, I have absolutely no problem with that,” Butz said of his methods. “To hit him with 300 pounds, plus another 30 pounds of gear.

‘Because my problem is that I am immense. When I get there, I’m going to hit him. But if I had to hit that quarterback — and I could get his legs out from under him, break his legs or whatever — I wouldn’t do it. I would still hit him high.

“I’ve broken collarbones, dislocated a few shoulders on some quarterbacks. On a quarterback I heard the bone break when… [teammate Karl Lorch] and I hit him. He tried to get up and I said, ‘Lie down; you’re hurt.’ ”

Still, Butz developed a reputation as an enigmatic player who was “equally serious and sensitive,” as The Washington Post’s Gary Pomerantz put it in a 1984 profile.

“He plays a lot, but sometimes it’s hard to tell,” Darryl Grant, who was lining up for Butz’s defense line, told Pomerantz. “I try to stay away from him when I’m not sure what his mood is.”

Butz’s 59 career sacks rank fifth in Washington history.

No one questioned Butz’s strength after a 1987 game against the New York Jets. Butz had been hospitalized for an intestinal virus, but checked himself out of an Arlington hospital on the morning of the game. He finished with three tackles and a sack in the 17-16 win in Washington, even though he had lost 26 pounds due to the virus.

“It was,” he said after the game, “the first time in 15 years that I weighed under 300.”

Washington won his second Super Bowl that season, and Butz had two tackles in a 42-10 knockout of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII.

In his final season in 1988, Butz played in his 197th game for Washington, a franchise record at the time. In an interview with The Post around the time he set the record, he recalled hitting six inches for a touchdown on one of his two career interceptions, in 1981 against the Chicago Bears.

“The only good thing was Walter Payton didn’t catch me,” Butz said of his near-score, citing the Bears’ legendary running back. “Bad part was that the center did that.”

Butz got the match ball the day he broke the record. It was inscribed, “Six inches too short.”


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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