Regardless of what happens to the NFL schedule because of the lockout, there is one event that won't be moved: the Hall of Fame inductions. Still, it doesn't seem right that one particular Steeler isn't going to be enshrined. And it's not Jerome Bettis or Dirt Dawson. Cornerback Jack Butler undoubtedly deserves to be in the Hall.
From humble beginnings, Butler himself couldn't have imagined having any football career, much less a prominent one. Invited as an undrafted free agent in 1951, Butler quipped, "Hey, this is a terrific way for me to spend my summer." A summer that didn't end until nine years and 52 interceptions later.
Within his first three years, Butler had more interceptions than Mel Blount did in his first five, Rod Woodson in his first six and the same as Donnie Shell in his first seven. This included a career day, the final game of 1953. He was the star of the show, picking off four passes, something no other Steeler has ever done, including returning one for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to top the Redskins 14-13. The win brought the Steelers' record to 6-6, the first time in the decade the team finished at .500.
In 1957, he led the team and league with 10 passes intercepted. He followed that up with nine the next year. By the end of his career, Butler had five or more interceptions in all but three seasons. Three times, he had nine or more. He retired tied for second in career interceptions in league history.
It might seem that in order to reach these numbers, Butler would've had to play in a number of games that would make Vinny Testaverde blush. Butler played in just nine seasons and 103 games. A gruesome knee injury ended his career in 1959. Some wonder what Barry Sanders' numbers would've looked like; I wonder what Jack Butler would've been able to do given more time.
Butler averaged one interception every 1.98 games. To put it in perspective to some of the other top Steelers, Mel Blount averaged one every 3.5. Donnie Shell at 3.94. Troy Polalmalu is sitting at 3.96, and the Hall of Fame talks have been heating up in the past year.
Of course, I'm talking about putting Butler in the Hall of Fame, not in the Coca-Cola Great Hall. Comparing his average to all-time leaders, he more than holds his own. Interception leader Paul Krause is at 2.79. Second on the all-time list is Emlen Tunnell, and he's only at 2.11. Ronnie Lott has a 3.04 average. Rod Woodson doesn't come close either at 3.35.
Despite playing far fewer games because of a shorter career and seasons with less games, Butler is still 25th all-time in interceptions and 20th in return yards. Unknown to most Steelers' fans, he is second on the team in career interceptions. Butler was elected to four Pro Bowls and was a three-time All-Pro. He even chipped in on offense, scoring four times on seven career catches.
Incredibly, Butler's biggest impact happened off the field with his contributions to the NFL draft. Football's draft is one of the most followed offseason activities in all of sports. Today's meticulous, and sometimes absurd, detail in scouting reports (Andy Dalton's red hair being a red flag and no, I can't possibly make that up) can be attributed to Butler.
For an astounding 44 years, he was the Director of Scouting of BLESTO, the first ever league-wide scouting agency. It is estimated that he has scouted hundreds of thousands of players in his life. Butler was the lifeline from college to the pros for several teams, collecting and providing scouting reports on the incoming classes. He did this working a majority of the time in an era that didn't have nearly the technology and ability to communicate as seen today, making his information all the more crucial. He's the person Mel Kiper dreams about.
Tom Donahoe and Kevin Colbert, former and current Director of Football Operations for the Steelers, respectively, have been trained by him. Donahoe exclaimed, "He probably broke half the league in scouting through BLESTO." He's given Jaguars' General Manager, at that time a new scout, Gene Smith valuable advice about forming your own opinions and sticking to them. The advanced scouting systems of today may not exist without the help of Butler.
That has to be worth something to his Hall of Fame credentials, right?
So far, apparently not. Butler, now on the Senior Committee, will have to wait another year. It should be the last time Jack Butler has to wait.