Dave Butz Alabama native Dave Roy Butz (1950-2022) was a longtime and noted defensive tackle for the Washington Commanders (then known as the Washington Redskins) of the National Football League (NFL) during the period when it won two Super Bowls and played in a third. He played college football at Purdue University and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014 for his records there and named to the school’s All-Time Team. A formidable presence on Washington’s defensive line for 13 years, Butz was named one of the “Greatest Commanders” on several occasions. He is remembered for his large size, competitiveness on the field, skills playing against the opposing teams’ running plays, and gentle demeanor off the field.
Butz was born on June 23, 1950, in LaFayette, Chambers County, to Verlo Ray and Mary Katherine Reinberg Butz, who had a poultry and livestock farm in Chambers County. Butz came from a family of farmers and later described himself in an interview as a “country boy,” enjoying life in Chambers County with the family’s 1,500 chickens and 150 head of cattle and some pigs. He had four sisters. His father was raised on a farm in Indiana, served in the U.S military during World War II, and is listed as a lieutenant on his marriage license. He relocated the family from Alabama to Illinois when Butz was age six or so. One of Verlo’s brothers was Earl Butz, who served as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and also was dean of the agriculture school at Purdue University.
Butz attended Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Illinois, where he was a three-time All American in football and starred in basketball and track and field. He scored more than 1,500 points in basketball and held the state record for the longest discus throw for more than a decade. He received numerous scholarship offers, including one for basketball from the University of Kentucky.
Butz attended Purdue University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree with a double major in physical education and health and safety and a minor in speech. He was a three-year starter on the football team and was voted to the College All-America Team in 1972, his senior year. Butz played in the Senior Bowl and was named the most valuable defensive player and was a finalist for the Lombardi Award, which is presented to the best senior defensive lineman or linebacker.
Butz was the fifth selection for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1973 NFL draft and was named to the league’s All-Rookie Team that same year, recording five sacks. After suffering an injury, he played just one game his second season, then became a free agent. He was acquired by Washington in 1975 and played for the team until retiring in 1989. During his professional career, Butz was unusual for his size—six-foot seven or eight inches in height and about 300 pounds—before those types of statistics became the norm.
Butz’s tenure with Washington came at a time when the team was building on success that began under Coach George Allen in the 1970s. The team reached new heights under Coach Joe Gibbs in the 1980s, when Butz played on three Super Bowl teams. In its 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII in January 1983, the Washington defense held Miami to 96 yards rushing and just four pass completions (still an NFL record), though one went for a 76-yard touchdown. The 1983 season was his most successful, when he recorded a team-high 11.5 sacks, well above his average of five per season at the time. Washington went 14-2 in the regular season on its way to a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance, a 38-9 loss to the Oakland Raiders. Butz was voted a first-team All-Pro and placed third in voting for Defensive Player of the Year. (Also on those two Super Bowl teams was another LaFayette native, Mike Williams. He attended Alabama A&M University and was named to its Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998. He played three years in the NFL for Washington as a tight end. Butz remembered him as a strong competitor but did not know he was from LaFayette.)
With Butz an elder statesman on the Washington defense, the team again made the playoffs in 1984, 1986, and 1987. Then, it advanced to Super Bowl XXII in January 1988 against the slightly favored Denver Broncos, led by future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway. Washington gave up 10 points in the first quarter but prevented Denver from scoring again in a 42-10 victory while forcing Elway to throw three interceptions, sacking him five times, and holding Denver to 97 yards rushing.
In the 1988 season, Butz’s last, he logged his 197th game in Washington, setting a team record, and played a total of 203 for Washington. He is now fourth all-time for the team. Overall, Butz played in 216 games and had been the oldest starting player in the league prior to announcing his retirement in May 1989 at age 38. He missed just four games in his 16-year career and recorded 64 or 64.5 sacks (depending on the source); five with St. Louis and 59.5 with Washington, which places him fifth all-time on the team. This statistic is unofficial, however, because it was not formally counted by the NFL until 1982. The Pro Football Hall of Fame made him a second-team all-1980s selection for his play in that decade. Butz is a member of Purdue’s all-time football team and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He was an avid and skilled quail hunter and clay target shooter, elected to the Grand National Quail Fall of Fame in 2012. A strong supporter of the Second Amendment, he served as a director of the National Rifle Association (NRA) from 2001 until 2022 and was a former NRA board member who was compensated for his participation in firearms training and outreach programs.
Butz died on November 4, 2022, in Swansea, Illinois. He was married twice, first to Candyce Engel, with whom he had three children, and then Debra Duncan.