Dave Butz, mainstay of Washington’s defenses in the 1980s, dies at 72

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Dave Butz earned a reputation as a gentle giant during his long NFL career, a notion he disillusioned in the 1980s by becoming a threat to opposing quarterbacks.

“Every quarterback I’ve hit knows I hit him,” Butz said when he retired after the 1988 season.

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

After a stellar college career at Purdue that eventually landed Butz in the College Football Hall of Fame, the St. Louis Cardinals selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft. Butz played just two seasons with St. Louis before leaving with acrimony (a hatred that spread throughout his career with Washington, who then faced the Cardinals twice a year as NFC East rivals). Although Butz was technically a free agent who could sign with any team he chose, at the time NFL rules stated that the team that signed a free agent had to compensate their former team. That didn’t bother Washington coach George Allen, who in 1975 paid the Cardinals what was then the biggest compensation for a free agent 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,” even though Butz came to Washington shortly after suffering a serious knee injury and would only start 18 of 42 games in his first three seasons. at DC But Butz eventually became a reliable left-tackle presence on Washington’s defensive line, starting all but one game for the rest of his career.

Simply massive at 6-foot-7 and 300+ pounds — he also wore size 12EEEEEEE cleats — Butz eventually became Washington’s main running stuntman, his helmet showing the scars of his trench wars with players every year. offensive line.

From 1984: When Butz is inspired, the mountains move

Butz’s pass-rush skills would soon show up as well. In the strike-shortened 1982 season, Butz finished second on the team with 4.5 sacks as Washington won its first Super Bowl title, its defense limiting the Miami Dolphins to 16 yards in the second half of the game. Super Bowl XVII. The following year, Butz’s best, he recorded a career-high 11.5 sacks and won Pro Bowl and all-pro honors for the only time in his career, refuting critics who questioned its supposed lack of middle sequence.

“If you mean if I have the ability to blind 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 of his methods. “To hit him with 300 pounds, plus another 30 pounds of gear.

“Because my problem is that I am huge. Once there, I will hit him. But if I was going to hit that quarterback — and I could rip his legs off, break his legs or whatever — I wouldn’t. I would always hit it high.

“I have 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 was trying to get up and I said, “Stay down; you’re hurt.’ ”

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

“He jokes a lot, but sometimes it’s hard to tell,” Darryl Grant, who lined up to Butz’s right on the Washington defensive line, told Pomerantz. “I try to stay away from him when I’m not sure of his mood.”

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

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

“It was”, he said after the match, “the first time in 15 years that I weighed less than 300”.

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

In his final season in 1988, Butz played 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 missing six inches from a touchdown on one of his two career interceptions, in 1981 against the Bears of Chicago.

“The only good thing was Walter Payton didn’t catch me,” Butz said of his close score, mentioning the legendary Bears running back. “The bad part was that the center did it.”

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

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