While other linebackers such as Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants and Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers have been dominant in their eras, Butkus is still the measuring stick at that position. Promising players are described as "a high school Butkus," "a Canadian Butkus," "an Ivy League Butkus."
Butkus and his wife, Helen, live in Malibu, California. They have three children: Rick, Mathew and Nikki. He still does television commercials and small movie parts, often reflecting his "tough-guy" persona, and manages the Dick Butkus Football Network, a Web site. He also announced for the National Broadcasting Corporation during its XFL telecasts. That league folded after one season, in the winter of 2002.
"I want to be recognized as the best—no doubt about it," Butkus once said. "When they say all-pro middle linebacker, I want them to mean Butkus!" Still, Butkus, for all his talents, might have trouble in today's NFL, which often fines and suspends players for extreme hits. "Headhunting is declasse in the NFL these days," Charles Bricker wrote in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas said he grew up enjoying Butkus on television, but added, "Nowadays, the NFL doesn't want to show that. They just want to show all the touchdowns."