Dave Butz’ legacy begins with the helmet. It was big, as befits the biggest man on the field. It was battered, as befits the man who is smack dab in the middle of every violent collision at the snap of the ball. Butz’ helmet was so famous that iconic L.A. Times sportswriter Jim Murray once penned an entire essay about it, and about the man who wore it. Sample line: “By the fourth quarter, (the Indian on the side of Butz’ helmet) looks more like Custer.”
Dave Butz was born in Lafayette, LA, and lived on his family’s poultry and cattle farm until he was six. Then the family moved the Chicago suburbs, where he would grow up, cheering for Bears linebacker Dick Butkus and eventually attending Purdue University. Though his family was well off – his uncle Earl Butz served in the cabinet of two presidents – Butz maintained a serious work ethic. Despite being a finalist for the Lombardi Trophy in college and being drafted fifth overall in 1973, he spent the summer before beginning his NFL career working on a road crew in Missouri.
He began his professional career in St. Louis, but injuries hindered him to the point that the Cardinals (yes, they were the Cardinals back then), essentially gave up on him. A contract fluke made him a free agent in 1975, and two teams wanted him. In Oakland, Al Davis was interested. In Washington, George Allen was even more interested. Allen won out. Butz never forgave St. Louis, and tended to play his best games against them.
Remembering Dave Butz after Washington Football legend passed away.
Washington had to fork over two 1st round and one 2nd round draft picks for the right to sign Butz, and many in the league thought Allen was crazy. Indeed, during the first few years, that seemed to be the case. Butz struggled early on.
He was 25, and his teammates, especially those on the defensive line, were much older. George Allen generally preferred veterans, but he obviously saw something special in Butz, because he installed him as the team’s starting left tackle immediately. Butz supplanted popular veteran Bill Brundige and many of his teammates were not pleased.
Diron Talbert, the right tackle, and a friend of Brundige’s, would call out coded line signals. Everyone knew the signals because everyone had been together for so long. Only Talbert never bothered to tell the new guy what the codes were, so Butz was often lost in the early days. Playing under the pressure of the lost draft picks and his big contract also got to the young player. But he persevered.
In 1978, the 28-year-old Butz lined up alongside Talbert (34), Coy Bacon (36), and the venerable Dancing Bear Ron McDole (39). But Allen would soon leave, the team would get younger, and Butz would get better. A lot better.
Butz began serious weight training around that time, and everything improved. His consistency, his durability, his overall impact on the game – they all rose to the levels that George Allen had initially envisioned.
Over the next decade, Davie Butz would become one of the league’s most dominant defensive tackles. Now it was Butz who was the veteran, anchoring a defensive line made up of brash youngsters like Dexter Manley, Charles Mann, and Darryl Grant. He only made one Pro Bowl, in 1983, yet he was so consistently excellent that he was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1980s – one of just four defensive tackles to be so honored.
When he finally retired after the 1988 season, Dave Butz ranked first in all-time games played for Washington. He surpassed another grizzled legend, center Len Hauss, for that honor, and he has since been passed by Darrell Green, Monte Coleman, and Art Monk.
So far, I have not mentioned Butz’ size. That was almost always the first thing people spoke of. Dave Butz was a massive man. He was variously listed at either 6’7” or 6’8” and played anywhere between 285 and 315 pounds. That size would still be considered large today, but back in the 1970s, it was earth-shattering.
Butz was not the first 300-pounder in the NFL – that honor is usually given to Lions and Rams defensive tackle Roger Brown who was a stalwart in the 1960s. But it was still extremely rare during Butz’ days. The greatest offensive linemen of Butz’ era – offensive guards like Mike Munchak and John Hannah – played at around 270. Even the best tackles – Anthony Munoz and Jimbo Covert – rarely weighed more than 280. In fact, Butz never had to go up against the only first-rate offensive lineman in the ’80s who matched his size, because he also played for Washington – Joe Jacoby.
Dave Butz is in the College Football Hall of Fame, but there is no great clamoring to get him into Canton. Truth be told, it would be a tough case to make. Defensive tackles don’t often pile up statistics. Butz was a classic “dirty work” player. He took on two, and sometimes three blockers on every play, often allowing Manley or Mann an easier path to the quarterback. His teammates knew, as did his opponents. Cowboys quarterback Danny White, who Butz nailed for 2.5 sacks in a crucial late-season game in 1983, said Butz was the key to Washington’s defense. He was the one guy they simply could not handle.
Back when Butz was playing football, Andre the Giant was the biggest star in the professional wrestling world. His competitors often said that had he wanted to, Andre could have broken any of his opponents in two, such was his physical dominance. You would sometimes hear NFL players say the same thing about Dave Butz. If he wanted to, he could have injured opposing quarterbacks virtually every week. Butz played hard, but he never played dirty. He was quiet, and he was classy.
Yep – he had an enormous head. They had to custom-make those battered helmets to fit him. And they had to practically invent a new shoe size for his giant feet – 12.5 EEEEEEE. (That’s right – that’s SEVEN Es). In between those feet and that head was the heart of a true professional who toiled in trenches for 14 seasons in Washington. He was a pillar of Washington football, standing right in the middle when Washington stood in the middle of the football universe. He brought fans a lot of memories.
More than enough to fill one of those 7 7/8 inch helmets.