Former NFL quarterback Rudy Bukich, who spent nine of his 14 NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears, died Monday. He was 85.
Larry Mayer of the Bears' official website released the news on Tuesday, saying Bukich died in his Del Mar, California, home.
"While we are deeply saddened by the loss of our father Rudy, he leaves behind a legacy for all to follow," Bukich's family said in a statement. "He was a great friend to all that knew him and was a dedicated family man who loved his children and grandkids immensely."
A second-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 1953, Bukich went on to play with Washington and the Pittsburgh Steelers in addition to the Bears. He spent a majority of his career as a backup, recording 41 starts out of 103 career appearances.
Thirty of those starts came in a three-year span in Chicago, where Bukich had his most extended run of success. He was named an All-Pro in 1965 after throwing for 2,641 yards and 20 touchdowns against nine interceptions. The USC product had a top-five quarterback rating during both the 1964 and 1965 seasons.
Things went quickly downhill in 1966, as Bukich saw his interceptions more than double (21), while his touchdowns were cut in half (10). He would stay on with the Bears as a backup in 1967 and 1968 before retiring but never started another game. He finished with 8,433 yards and 61 touchdowns against 74 interceptions overall.
While most career backups aren't talked about with high praise, players of Bukich's era talk about his arm strength with near-mythic reverence. Hall of Fame tight end Mike Ditka told Peter King he once saw Bukich throw a football 100 yards.
“It’s true,” Ditka said in King's book Greatest Quarterbacks (h/t Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk). “I saw Rudy do it. I was on the field that day. Now, I’d seen him try it before, and it’d go maybe 95. But he did throw it 100 that one time.”
Bukich was also a U.S. Army veteran and became a real-estate developer in Southern California after his playing career. He is survived by his wife, six children, nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.