4. Tackling machine
During his time with the Chicago Bears, Dick Butkus was viewed as one of the most feared players in the history of the NFL. That trend started well before his time in the professional ranks, though.
Butkus was a menace for the Illinois football program. He was able to navigate the field better than anyone in the college game.
By the time Butkus’ career was done with the Illini, he would finish No. 9 all-time in tackles. But there is much more nuance to this tackling statistic than meets the eye.
Let’s first start off by saying Butkus only played three seasons for the Illinois football team. He finished those three seasons with 374 tackles. If he played four full seasons, then he would have finished with 498 tackles, which would have ranked No. 3 all-time.
In the 1960s, Illinois didn’t play the 12-game schedule you see today. Butkus only played in 26 games for the Illini because there were nine-game schedules back then. That means he amassed 374 tackles in 26 games. That comes out to 13.9 tackles per game. This bests Dana Howard, who currently sits as the Illinois football all-time leading tackler. If Butkus had played as many games as Howard, roughly 47 games, then he would have finished his Illinois career with 653 tackles.
And lastly, when you look at the Illinois record book, it shows solo tackles and assist tackles. Back in the 1960s, I don’t believe assist tackles were a thing. I think a tackle was a tackle. If Butkus had assisted tackles added to his total, who knows where his number would be? He was a tackling machine and the best to ever do it in Champaign. That is why he is an Illinois football GOAT.