Dave Butz earned a reputation as a gentle giant during his long NFL career, which he abused as a threat to opposing quarterbacks in the 1980s.
We are heartbroken by the loss of Washington Legend Dave Butz, a 2x Super Bowl Champion and Ring of Famer and member of our 90 Greatest List. Our condolences to Dave’s family and friends. pic.twitter.com/ZkxgGoFNwR
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) November 4, 2022
After a stellar college career at Purdue that landed Buzz in the College Football Hall of Fame, the St. Louis Cardinals selected him fifth overall in the 1973 NFL Draft. Butz played just two seasons with St. Louis before going undercover (a hatred that grew throughout his time with Washington, where he played the Cardinals twice a year as NFC East rivals. Although Butz was technically a free agent who could sign with any team, NFL rules at the time allowed him to sign as a free agent. That didn’t bother Washington coach George Allen, who in 1975 paid the Cardinals the largest free agent compensation in NFL history: first-round draft picks in 1977 and 1978 and a second-round pick in 1978.
Although Butz came to Washington shortly after suffering a serious knee injury and started 18 of 42 games in D.C. in his first three seasons, Allen calls it “one of the best trades I’ve ever made.” He started all but one game for the rest of his career.
Simply gigantic at 6-foot-7 and 300-plus pounds — and wearing size 12EEEEEEE cleats — Butz eventually became Washington’s leading rusher, his helmet bearing the scars of his annual trench battles with offensive linemen.
Booth’s pass rush abilities will soon show themselves 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 as the defense limited the Miami Dolphins to 16 yards in the second half of Super Bowl XVII. The next year, Booth recorded a career-high 11.5 sacks and earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors for the only time in his career, defying critics who believed his average line was lacking.
“It means I have the ability to see the quarterback in his eyes or throw the ball and I have no problem hitting him over the middle,” Butz said of his tactics. “With 300 pounds to hit and another 30 pounds of equipment.
“Because my problem is that I am a giant. I’m going to hit it once I get there. But if I have to hit that quarterback – and take the legs out from under him, break the legs or whatever – I’m not going to do it. I’ll still hit it high.
“I’ve broken collarbones, dislocated a few shoulders on some quarterbacks. When I heard about a broken bone in a quarterback [teammate Karl Lorch] I hit him too. He was trying to get up and I said, ‘Wait.’ You’re hurt.’ “
Today I lost a dear friend. Dave Booth and Dave Mark Mosley used to ride to games together. A true gentle giant. Rest in peace my friend.
— Joe Theismann (@Theismann7) November 4, 2022
Still, Butz developed a reputation as an enigmatic player who was “equal parts serious and emotional,” as The Washington Post’s Gary Pomerantz put it in a 1984 profile.
“He’s been around a lot of kids, but sometimes it’s hard to tell,” Daryl Grant, who lined up to Booth’s right in the Washington defensive line, told Pomerantz. I try to stay away from him when I’m not sure what his feelings are.
Booth’s 59 career sacks rank fifth in Washington history.
In the year After the 1987 game against the New York Jets, no one questioned Booth’s toughness. Butz was 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 Washington’s 17-16 win, despite losing 26 pounds because of the virus.
he was” he said. “I weighed under 300 for the first time in 15 years,” he said after the game.
Washington won its second Super Bowl that season, and Booth had two tackles in a 42-10 demolition of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII.
In his final season in 1988, Butz played in 197 games for Washington. Franchise record at the time. In an interview with The Post around the time he set the record, he recalled coming up six inches short on one of his two career catches against the Chicago Bears in 1981.
“It’s just a good thing Walter Payton didn’t catch me,” Butz said of the closeout, referring to the Bears’ legendary running back. “It was the worst part he did in the middle.”
Butz got the game ball on the day he broke the record. It read, “Six inches too short.”