Dick Butkus, longtime linebacker for the Chicago Bears, became the defensive face of the NFL. A two-time Defensive Player of the Year, he developed a new style of linebacker play that looked beyond tackling and focused more on stripping the ball. Featuring some of the most valuable cards from his era, many of the best Dick Butkus cards to collect are covered below.
The Bears struck gold in the 1965 NFL Draft, picking Butkus from the University of Illinois along with running back Gale Sayers. Both players would dominate their own side of the ball with Butkus becoming the most feared linebacker in NFL history. He was selected to eight Pro Bowls in his nine seasons in the league and intercepted 22 passes and recovered a record 27 fumbles over his career. A member of both the Pro Football and College Football Hall of Fame, Dick Butkus also has an annual award named after him. The Butkus Award is given yearly to the best linebackers at the high school, college, and pro level.
Based on Butkus' stardom, it is no surprise that he was frequently included in smaller non-Topps football sets during his career. In 1966, Coca-Cola continued to issue bottle caps with player images on the bottom. Although the Bears weren't featured as a team, Butkus was included in the NFL All-Stars set with the league's best players. In addition, 1969 Glendale Stamps has a Butkus portrait stamp that collectors frequently stuck into an album, making them a rare find today.
Among the other notable releases, Topps inserted one Topps Game Card per pack of 1971 Topps. Collectors could use the cards as a part of a separate game. Set builders have found that several of the Game Cards were double-printed, including Butkus' card, giving fans on a budget a great place to start their collection. In 1972, the NFL Players Association issued an iron-on set of cards that could be attached to a shirt or jacket. These are tough to locate many decades later.
Dick Butkus vintage cards are some of the most expensive among all defensive players and he remains very popular. In determining this top list, card value was the main factor along with each set's importance to the hobby and availability to collectors.
Top 10 Dick Butkus Football Cards
Click on the card titles or images to shop for specific cards on eBay. Linked sets in the descriptions go straight to product profiles.
Measuring 8" x 10", these Topps Posters inserts were originally folded up in packs of 1970 Topps Football Series 1. In total, there are 24 posters to find with Butkus and his Bears teammate Gale Sayers as the top two options. Butkus is shown trying to go for a turnover, something he was an expert at doing. His record of 27 fumble recoveries is even more impressive when combined with the fact that the NFL didn't count forced fumbles during Butkus' career.
My personal favorite Dick Butkus card comes from 1973 Topps and features "The Enforcer" busting through the offensive line on his way to the quarterback. The horizontal design complements the card nicely and you get the feeling that Butkus was unstoppable on the gridiron. Butkus' final card as a player would be in 1974 Topps following his retirement after the 1973 season.
The 1972 Topps Football set included action shots from games for the first time, calling them Pro Action cards. Much like the In Action cards from 1972 Topps Baseball, fans finally got to see their favorite NFL players making some amazing plays. Butkus is shown on his Series 3 card brutally tackling a member of the Green Bay Packers. 1972 Topps Football would be the last that Topps issued in separate series, making it the final time collectors would struggle with the short-printed, high-number cards.
Unlike the 1970 Topps Posters insert, 1970 Topps Super was its own independent product from the larger Topps Football flagship set. Collectors could get three of these oversized photo cards in a pack, plus a stick of gum, of course. The reverse side of the cards showcase the identical back from the 1970 set. Featuring 35 cards, it is sometimes confused with the Topps Super Glossy insert which was included in 1970 Topps Football Series 2. Those cards were also glossy on cardboard stock but their dimensions were identical to the standard cards.
Kellogg's issued two sets during Butkus' playing days in 1970 and 1971 and he has cards in both sets but only his 1971 appearance makes this list for one simple reason. While the 1970 set was available to collectors in cereal boxes and through a mail-in offer, the 1971 set was only available via cereal boxes making them much more rare on the secondary market. On top of the scarcity, the Kellogg's cards are also very hard to find in excellent condition because of the printing process used.
The 1969 Topps set was divided into two series that have the distinction of actually having a design difference between them. Series 1 cards incorporate a full-bleed design, meaning the card image did not feature a border along the outside edges. Series 2, however, features a white border around the image and the checklist card (#132) can be found in both design versions. As you can see from his card below, Butkus is found in Series 2 and has the white border, making it a little easier to find high-grade copies.
Butkus has appeared in several high-end autographed set during the 2000s but he has only been included in a handful of checklists in recent years. 2015 Panini Flawless and 2014 Panini National Treasures are a few of the more modern sets to find Butkus signatures, therefore, fans must look to older products to obtain alternate certified autographs. One of the most available examples for fans can be found in 1999 Upper Deck Century Legends which featured many retired stars. Butkus' signature is often written in a single pen stroke, without lifting the pen and the "D" is his first name left open.
Butkus made his Topps football card debut in 1968 Topps as the card company obtained the license for both the NFL and AFL. The reverse side highlights Butkus' collegiate career that saw him named the Sporting News Player of the Year in 1964. He also finished near the top of the Heisman Trophy voting in 1963 and '64, which was a rare feat for a defensive player.
The last Philadelphia set of the 1960s features a similar design (and in many cases similar photos) to 1966 Philadelphia with the addition of a yellow border. Butkus was of course drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 1965 Draft but, as the NFL and AFL were still different leagues at the time, he was also drafted by the AFL's Denver Broncos in the same year. Being a Chicago native, he chose the Bears and became the face of their franchise for nearly a decade.
Butkus's hobby debut came in 1966 Philadelphia, and his rookie (along with Gale Sayers) is the overall highlight. The Enforcer earned his nickname his very first season with five interceptions, seven fumble recoveries, and a trip to the Pro Bowl. His card, featuring Butkus with his trademark buzz cut, can approach $1,500 at auction for near-mint/mint graded copies.