Throughout the history of sports, athletes are usually defined by the position they play. The legendary players make names for themselves by redefining the position they play, as was the case for Hall of Famers Jack Lambert and Dick Butkus.
The big question for today is who should have won the starting spot on the 70s All-Decade Team?
Lambert and Butkus are two of the most revered and celebrated linebackers in NFL history. In many ways, their styles of play were very similar. They were both known for their hard hits, intimidating personalities, ability to play through injuries and treated their opponents with the same merciless aggression. That being said, they also shared the same cerebral approach to the game and were the leaders of their respective teams.
The Steelers drafted Lambert out of Kent State in the second round of the 1974 draft. Due to his size, six-foot, four-inches and only 220 pounds, many were concerned about whether or not he’d be able to play the grueling position. Despite the concerns, Lambert started every game in his rookie campaign and the rest is history. By the time he retired after the 1984 season he recorded 28 interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries and 1,479 tackles (tackles weren’t officially tracked until 2001).
After a stellar career at the University of Illinois, the Bears selected Butkus as the third overall pick in the 1965 draft. Butkus was one of the biggest linebackers of his era at six-foot, three-inches and weighing 245 pounds. Due to his punishing style of play, Butkus’ reputation as the most feared tackler in the game quickly spread through out the league. In his career, he amassed 27 fumble recoveries, 22 interceptions and 1,020 tackles.
In the decade of the 70s, Butkus was All-Pro twice and was selected to three Pro Bowls. Butkus only played four seasons in the decade; a knee injury forced him to retire after the 1973 season. Lambert on the other hand played played six seasons in the decade. He was an All-Pro twice and was selected to five Pro Bowls. Lambert also won the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award in 1974 and was also chosen as the Defensive Player of the Year in 1976. Butkus did win both of those awards but not in the 70s, he won those awards in 1965 and 1969 respectively.
As it stands, Butkus holds the starting spot at the middle linebacker position for the 1970s All-Decade Team and Lambert is his backup. On the NFL Networks Top 100 Players list, Butkus was the 10th player and Lambert was the 29th player, but when you compare their careers in the 70s they are a lot closer. Butkus and Lambert were voted to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team and have gone down in history as two of the very best middle linebackers to ever step on the field.