Wednesday was a momentous day in Pittsburgh Steelers history. Well, perhaps that's a bit overstated, but great news was announced that surely had the older generation of Steelers fans in good spirits. Jack Butler, a longtime cornerback and even longer time scout, received one of two Seniors Committee nominations from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Butler first joined the organization in 1951 as an undrafted free agent rookie out of St. Bonaventure. He would play for the black-and-gold for nine seasons (1951-1959) and intercepted 52 passes before a devastating knee injury ended his playing career abruptly. Those 52 picks were the most by any Steeler player until Mel Blount intercepted his 53rd pass in 1982. Even though teams played only 12 games per season, Butler picked off a combined 19 passes in 1957 and 1958, his final two full seasons before being forced into retirement by injury. Had the four-time Pro Bowler and three-time All Pro played another two or three seasons, he might have finished with 60 interceptions, a total that would have put him in the top-ten career list to this day, and likely helped his Hall of Fame chances considerably. As it was, Butler was forced to hang up his cleats second on the all-time interceptions list. Even though the season is now 25 percent longer and the passing game has emerged as the offensive weapon of choice in the modern game, Butler has only slid down to 25th in career INTs.
Butler had a game that you can only dream of on December 13, 1953 in our nation's capitol. While out-rushing and out passing the Washington Redskins all game, the Steelers trailed after three quarters, 13-0 (typical for the Steelers in those days). Getting lost in the score was the outstanding game Jack Bulter was having. He had intercepted the great Eddie LeBaron three times. Finally, in the fourth quarter, the Steelers put a touchdown on the board to at least avert the shutout. Late in the game, down 13-7, Butler capped the game of his life by picking off LeBaron a fourth time, an NFL record still never broken, and taking it to the house for an electrifying 14-13 Steelers victory.
As great as Butler's playing days were, his real legacy came as the director of BLESTO scouting operations for the Steelers beginning in 1963. Let's turn back to Gleason (maryrose) for a quick history lesson about Butler and his involvement with the NFL's first scouting outfit:
Though his injury ended his playing days, Butler's time in the NFL was still in its infancy. Prior to the early 1960s, scouting and drafting were crude practices that were often counterproductive and cost-ineffective. Scouts from several teams would often find themselves in the same little off-the-beaten-path town learning the same information. Sure enough, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers who spearheaded the NFL's very first scouting combine. It was in the early 60s and it was called LESTO, standing for Lions Eagles Steelers Talent Organization. The Bears jumped on board soon thereafter and the name became BLESTO. Today's world of televised combines and sophisticated pro days began in Downtown Pittsburgh under the leadership of Ken Stilley, a former Steelers assistant coach.
Butler, took over operations of BLESTO in 1963 and held the leadership post for 44 years, until his retirement in 2007. BLESTO still operates today for at least seven clubs, but it is certainly no longer the only talent evaluation organization of its kind. Of all the things Jack Butler could be proud of, creating the first combine is at the top.
So, what are the chances that Butler gets the nod from Canton and becomes the 24th Steelers player to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame? Honestly, I'm not sure. He and Dick Stanfel, an offensive guard who made five All Pro teams during his brief seven-year career, don't compete with the 15 modern candidates. However, they must receive at least 80 percent 'yes' votes just like the modern candidates. Stanfel was named a Senior Committee finalist in 1993; Butler has yet to advance this far in the selection process.