For years, his peers spoke on his behalf. They told stories of his toughness and listed his accomplishments and detailed his statistics. Today, those voices have been heard. Today, Jack Butler was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Fifty-three years after his career was ended by a horrific knee injury, 48 years after he first became eligible, Jack Butler finally became a member of a group that has been enhanced by his addition. Butler is a part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012. He had been on the ballot as one of two nominees of the Hall of Fame's Seniors Committee, which reviews the qualifications of players whose careers took place more than 25 years ago. This is the same path Dick LeBeau took when he was inducted as a member of the Class of 2010.
Butler joins an impressive number of Steelers who have been elected to the Hall of Fame, but he and Ernie Stautner are the only two from that era who played their entire careers in Pittsburgh. The era in question was the 1950s, a time when professional football was not a glamorous business, especially in Pittsburgh.
Don Joyce was an NFL defensive end for 12 years beginning in 1950, and he started on the Baltimore Colts' teams that won NFL Championships in 1958 and 1959. As such, Joyce had a first-hand understanding of what it took to thrive during that era of football, and after his playing days his long career as a scout showed he also had a keen eye for talent. The following is a portion of a letter he wrote to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Jack Butler's behalf:
"Jack played for the Steelers during the 1950s on the worst football field in the NFL – Forbes Field. Covered with soot (no grass) from the steel mills and the coal trains passing by. There were almost no rules in the 1950s and not many officials. With World War II ending, most players were ex-servicemen. These guys were tough! Jack Butler personified this era. I have played with many Hall of Fame players and worked for Hall of Fame coaches, including Curly Lambeau, Joe Stydahar, Weeb Eubank and Norm Van Brocklin. In my 12 years playing, I know who belongs in that Hall of Fame building, and that's Jack Butler."
Butler certainly accumulated the statistics to back up Don Joyce's opinion, and the most eye-popping of them all was this one: In 103 career NFL games – seasons were just 12 games during the 1950s – Jack Butler accounted for 62 takeaways. There were 52 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries.
Think about that for a minute. Fifty-two interceptions in 103 games during an era when 350 pass attempts for an entire team over the course of a whole season was a lot. It was an era when coaches actually believed that whenever a team attempted to pass, two of the three things that could happen were bad, and they tailored the play-calling accordingly.
But regardless of the characteristics of the NFL during the 1950s, Jack Butler was a dominant player during that time. He and Dick "Night Train" Lane were the only two cornerbacks selected to the NFL's Team of the Decade. The offensive players voted to the same team included running backs Frank Gifford, Ollie Matson and Lenny Moore, and receivers Raymond Berry, Tom Fears and Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch.
During the same seasons in which Butler played cornerback and safety for the Steelers, Gifford was a running back/receiver for the New York Giants. Gifford was voted All-NFL four times and played in seven Pro Bowls during Butler's NFL career, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. That lends legitimacy to his perspective.
"I rarely get involved in the Hall's business," is the way Gifford began a letter to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "I do so because in Jack's case we squared off in many games over the nine years our careers coincided. I remember those years and games vividly, and in my estimation he was one of the best defensive backs I ever played against. I also got to know Jack in the Pro Bowls in which we played as teammates. In short, Jack Butler was one of the best ever to play his position, and again in my estimation he more than deserves his spot in the Hall of Fame."
Berry finished his Hall of Fame career with 631 catches and was a dominant receiver in the NFL for a decade.
"I recently had a chance to see Jack's numbers as compared to others who played his position who are in the Hall of Fame," wrote Berry in his letter supporting Butler's candidacy. "I also recall my memories of playing against him during my years in the league. Comparing him and his numbers – particularly interceptions – with others in the Hall of Fame seems pretty clear. I believe he has been overlooked …"
Overlooked no longer, Jack Butler is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Jack Butler returned the first of his 52 career interceptions for a 52-yard touchdown … Among the quarterbacks he victimized during his career were Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, Y.A. Tittle and Norm Van Brocklin … In 1957, Butler either intercepted a pass, forced a fumble, or recovered a fumble in 10 of the 12 games … He had nine multiple interception games in his career, plus two more multiple takeaway games … In the two complete seasons before he sustained a career-ending knee injury – 1957 and 1958 – Butler had 19 interceptions and two fumble recoveries in the 24 games.