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Notes From Paul: Jack Butler Will Be Missed

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Jack Butler Pro Football Hall Of Fame

Listen to the Essential Pittsburgh interview with Jack Butler from July 2012

The voice on the other end of the telephone was husky and polite. It belonged to an octogenarian and one of the greatest defensive backs ever to play pro football, Jack Butler. It was the middle of last summer and Mr. Butler was getting a lot of attention because at the age of 84, he was finally going to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I was hoping he would be able to come in to our studios to be a guest on Essential Pittsburgh. Mine was but the latest in a long line of requests.

Mr. Butler made it clear that it was nothing personal, but he wasn’t particularly interested in leaving the comfort of his Munhall living room to be on the radio. For that matter, he seemed to be unable or unwilling to understand what the big fuss was about. His attitude made sense because after years of being passed over, he probably had grown at ease with the fact that he would probably never be invited to join the greatest of the great in Canton. He certainly hadn’t embarked on any sort of lobbying effort.

After several phone calls, Mr. Butler finally gave in and agreed to join us live in studio on July 26, 2012, just over a week before the induction ceremony. As we chatted about it on the program, he was clearly much more excited about going into the Hall of Fame than he had let on. He shared details of his life growing up in the Steel City, the extraordinary fact that he had never played high school football, and how the Steelers contract offer was barely enough to entice him to play pro football in the first place.

To say that he made the most of his opportunity would be an understatement. During his nine seasons in the NFL, all with the Steelers, Butler made three all-pro teams and the NFL’s all-decade team of the 1950s. He retired with 52 career interceptions, second most in the NFL at the time.

Steelers fans everywhere are glad that the powers that be didn’t wait any longer to induct Jack Butler into the Hall of Fame. He died last Saturday morning at UPMC Shadyside, after battling the same staph infection that ended his playing career in 1959.  

He is survived by his wife, eight children and 15 grandchildren.

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