Dick Butkus
The thing that jumped out when you watched Butkus play live or marveled at his highlights, is that the player he tackled always went backwards after contact. There were no drag-down tackles. There was Butkus striking a ball carrier, and that ball carrier’s momentum instantly being reversed.
Butkus played just nine seasons on mostly bad Bears teams from 1965-73, before knee injuries forced an early end to a brilliant career. Those Bears teams were uninspiring, but not unwatchable, if only because of the controlled violence that Butkus imposed upon his opponents, even toward the end, when he was limping noticeably after multiple knee surgeries.
He missed the Pro Bowl just once and was first-team All-Pro five times. At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Butkus was huge for a linebacker in those days, but he was far more than a heat-seeking missile aimed at running backs. He intercepted 22 passes, including five as a rookie, and recovered 27 fumbles.
Jack Lambert
Lambert was one of the emotional leaders of the Steel Curtain defense that carried the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s, making nine Pro Bowls and being named first-team All-Pro six times.
Undersized at just 204 pounds, although he was always listed at 220, Lambert was the prototypical middle linebacker in the “Tampa Two” defense the Steelers perfected because of his range and cover ability. He had 28 career interceptions, including six in 1979 and ’81, and he recovered 17 fumbles, including an NFL-best eight in 1976.
Ray Lewis
No linebacker has ever terrorized opponents in more ways and for a longer time than Lewis, who was voted to 13 Pro Bowls in 17 seasons, was first-team All-Pro seven times and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer.
A devastating tackler, Lewis forced 19 fumbles, recovered 20, intercepted 31 passes and had 41.5 sacks. Lewis also brought inspirational leadership to the Ravens’ defenses. He was a two-time NFL defensive player of the year and played on two Super Bowl winners.
Lewis was MVP of the Super Bowl XXXV winner and led that 2000 defense that is considered by many the best of all time.

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