Tuesday, August 9, 2011


When I first considered writing this article I was unsure how I'd approach it. I usually add humor and satire to my pieces to maintain the readers' interest, but also to hammer a point home. The person I speak of in this article deserves better than a joke for the sake of a joke, though. I also thought about dropping the cold, hard facts, but that could lose the interest of even the most avid Steelers fan.

The player I speak of in this article deserves better than to be reduced to mere facts. Therefore, the person and player I speak of is Jack Butler and he deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now, as you read this you probably just asked yourself, "Whom?" Therein lies the problem. When Steelers fans complain about former players who belong in the Hall of Fame, the usual suspects are in the lineup: L.C. "Hollywood Bags" Greenwood, Donnie Shell, Dermonti Dawson, etc... To sing these players' praises is only right, it's just that not enough current fans know the words to Jack Butler's song to sing his praises in the first place. Now, while I'm not a great singer by any means, I'm going to add my voice to his book of hymns and hopefully attract to him the attention he deserves.

Jack Butler was a 6'1" and 200 lb. defensive back who also played some flanker. Butler was a four-time Pro Bowl, and more importantly a four-time All-Pro (three-time 1st Team selection and one-time 2nd Team selection), player for Pittsburgh from 1951-1959. He was one of the best defenders to play in Pittsburgh and was one of the last two-way players for the Steelers. His career was cut short in 1959 when his knee was so badly damaged in a game at Forbes Field that some wondered if he would live through it. But live through it he did and went on to try his hand at coaching and then ended up being a coach/scout for the Steelers in 1961. Within 2 years Butler would become the director of BLESTO, one of two NFL scouting combines, where he was basically responsible for every player in the NFL for 44 years (1963-2007). Though his being the face of the NFL Scouting Combine could get him elected to Canton as a Contributor, the focus of this article will be on his playing days and why he should eventually wear a gold jacket based on those merits.

As was mentioned, Butler was one of the best defenders to ever play in Pittsburgh. In 3 different seasons (1953, 1957 and 1958) he made at least 9 interceptions, including leading the League in 1957 with 10. Undrafted, Butler made the Steelers as a free agent and became one of the hardest-hitting cornerbacks in the league and one adept at finding the ball as well. His 52 career interceptions still rank 2nd all-time in the Steelers' record books, were good for no. 2 in the NFL all-time when he retired, and still rank as no. 25 in the NFL all-time. Those 52 interceptions also garnered 827 return yards, which still ranks no. 20 in the NFL all-time, and four touchdowns in a total of only 103 games - that's essentially an interception every other game. He also had 10 career fumble recoveries, returning one for a touchdown. Impressive numbers to be sure, but don't just take my word for it. The NFL and the Steelers organization said it first as Butler was on the NFL's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, as well as the Steelers 50 Anniversary Team. Yet, he isn't in the Hall of Fame. Based on the numbers alone one would think he'd have been enshrined by now. But he isn't. I could easily offer personal conjecture as to why he isn't, but it would sound as if I'm just a homer for my team. So I won't speculate as to why, rather I'll compare his accomplishments against some contemporaries who actually do have their busts in Canton.

Let's start with another Jack who played during the same basic years as Butler: Jack Christiansen, who played with the Lions from 1951-1958. Christiansen intercepted 46 balls in his career for a total of 717 return yards and 3 touchdowns. Christiansen also recovered 7 fumbles in his career. His case was bolstered, though, because of returning both kicks and punts throughout his career. He returned kicks and punts so well that it helped him to four 1st Team All-Pros. Comparable numbers nonetheless and yet Christiansen is in the HOF, but Butler isn't. Another contemporary who could be considered is Dick "Night Train" Lane. He played from 1952-1965 and picked off 68 passes in his career returning them for 1,207 yards and scoring five touchdowns. He recovered 11 fumbles, returning one for a touchdown and was a three-time All-Pro. This particular HOFer's actual numbers are greater than those of Butler, as you can see, but he accomplished them in 54 more games. Projecting Butler's numbers out over 157 games would give him approximately 78 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries, not to mention probably at least a couple more All-Pro selections. Alright, one last comparison before I wrap this part up. HOFer Willie Wood played for the Green Bay Packers from 1960-1971 and was a 5-time 1st Team All-Pro. He intercepted 48 passes in his career for a total of 699 return yards and two touchdowns. He also recovered 16 fumbles over the course of his career. Wood is another who returned both punts and kicks and was fairly proficient at it as he is credited for 1,411 total punt/kick return yards. He certainly deserves the Hall of Fame induction he received, all of these men do. But his defensive numbers, even with playing over 60 more games than Butler, simply were not as good. If, again, you were to project Butler's numbers over the career of Mr. Wood's, he'd have 83 interceptions, which would be the most in NFL history, approximately 16 fumble recoveries also, and who knows how many return yards and touchdowns. Obviously we can't truly speculate, but the point is that Butler's numbers, accolades and impact on the field of play are easily as significant as his three contempories mentioned here. Yet, he isn't in the Hall of Fame.

I've been talking for a while now on the Hall of Fame, yet I haven't addressed the criteria set forth by the Hall itself. What are the requirements for induction? Well let's see what profootballhof.com has to say on the matter. In the "Hall of Famers: Selection Process" section you'll find a paragraph that reads this way: "Any fan may nominate any player, coach or contributor who has been connected with pro football simply by writing to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The only restriction is that a player and coach must have been retired at least five years before he can be considered. There is no mandatory retirement period for a contributor before he may be considered. Every nomination of an eligible candidate received will be processed and forwarded to the Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee." Yep, that's about the extent of what the website gives as to the criteria for being nominated. In other words it's very nebulous. But if we take into consideration what was said regarding past enshrinees at the time of their induction, we can assume that there are three basic criteria: 1) Excellence or dominance at the position for a good portion of their career, 2) where their numbers and/or accomplishments were ranked at the time of their retirement, and 3) how they stack up against their contemporaries. Hm...I think I already made that case for him. In that case, I'll simply sum this up: in 103 regular season games, a 9 year career, Jack Butler's accomplishments and impact were on the level of three HOFers who played in his era, was a member of the NFL's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team, a member of the Steelers 50th Anniversary Team, a four time All Pro, and the number two all-time interception leader when he retired, yet, he still isn't...well, you know the rest.