Former Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback and long time BLESTO Director Jack Butler has died after a long battle with a staph infection he received as the result of an artificial knee transplant.
Butler was 85, and is survived by his wife and 15 grand children, and 8 children, including his son Mike, who recently joined the Steelers scouting department.
Unknown to the last several generations of fans in Steelers Nation, Jack Butler was a star on the SOS squads “Same Old Steelers.” As the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1950’s struggled in mediocrity, Jack Butler was building a Hall of Fame resume as a cornerback.
According to the obituary published in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by Bob Cohn, Butler intercepted 5 passes as a rookie.
The Steelers were on the road and losing 13-0 to the Washington Redskins and despite out rushing and out passing the Redskins all day, Butler had intercepted the legendary Eddie LeBaron 3 times.
As told by Tim Gleason in his classic, From Black to Gold, the Steelers scored a face-saving touchdown late in the 4th to make it 13-7. Butler intercepted LeBaron a still NFL record 4th time, returning the ball for a pick-six and leading the Steelers to victory.
Butler’s career was cut short in 1959 when he blew out a knee, which is a shame because he’d intercepted 19 passes in his final two seasons – an even more remarkable feat when you consider that Butler only played 12 game seasons in an era where a team that threw 20 passes a game was considered “pass happy.”
All told Butler played in four Pro Bowls, three All NFL teams and the NFL’s All Decade team for the 1950’s. As of May 2012, Butler stands tied for 15th on the NFL’s All Time career interception list, picking off legendary quarterbacks such as Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, Y.A. Tittle and Norm Van Brocklin.
Butler even saw spot duty at wide receiver, catching 7 passes and took four of them into the end zone for four touchdowns.
From Being the Talent on the Field to Finding the Talent to Field
After retiring from the game, Jack Butler first dabbled as an assistant coach and then join the BLESTO scouting combine, serving as its director from 1966 to 2006.
BLESTO stands for Bears Lions Eagles Steelers Talent Organization, and was formed when player data on NFL prospects was far from ubiquitous as it is today.
In his capacity as BLESTO scout, Butler hired and/or trained hundreds of NFL scouts, including former Pittsburgh Steelers Director of Football Operations Tom Donahoe and current Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert.
From his perch at BLESTO Butler also had a hand, at least indirectly, on the scouting reports that Chuck Noll used to select Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Rod Woodson, and Dermontti Dawson – all of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Jack Butler, Man of Class, Man of No Regrets
Injuries didn’t simply end Jack Butler’s NFL career, they impacted the rest of his life. He under went multiple surgeries, walked with a limp for over 50 years, and had both knees replaced – and it was the latter knee replacement which lead to the staph infection which cost him his life.
- Butler, however, had no regrets.
As Ed Bouchette recounted in the his obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, When asked by Art Rooney Jr. if given the constant pain he struggled with, Butler would do it again, the former Pro Bowl cornerback did not flinch, telling Rooney, “’He said, “Playing football was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. If I could go out today and suit up, I would do it.”'”
Butler was also a class act, drawing praise from Dan Rooney who said “He was an excellent person both on and off the field, and he played an integral role in the BLESTO scouting program and our entire draft process before his retirement.”
Art Rooney II followed suit, explaining that “Jack Butler was one of the all-time great Steelers. He devoted his entire life to the NFL and made contributions to many teams and many players through his work with BLESTO and player personnel matters.”
Kevin Colbert’s comments were perhaps the most effusive:
Jack was a great person and great friend who always placed his faith and family first. Beyond his great play on the field, he was a legendary personnel man who helped so many of us get established in our scouting careers. He will be missed, but never forgotten.
It is fair to say that a majority of Steelers fans who’ve rooted for their beloved Black and Gold without knowing who Jack Butler was, but they certainly are well acquainted with his legacy.