When I heard about Pittsburgh Steelers great Jack Butler passing away Saturday after a lengthy battle with a staph infection, I immediately flashed back to February 2012, when he was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was so excited by the moment, and he had every right to be.
Butler had to wait 52 years to be inducted. We've all seen players get emotional about reaching the Hall of Fame, but there was a different level of appreciation with Butler. When he spoke about the achievement, there was a genuine sense of awe, humility and exuberance.
"I never, ever, ever thought I would be here. I just didn't think that would be the reality," Butler said last year. "When I was a kid, I dreamed about being a big, strong, good football player. I dreamed of about going to Canton, Ohio, and being in the Hall of Fame. But I never, ever down deep believed what I was dreaming."
My hope is that everyone understands the caliber of player Butler was, even if they didn't get to see him play. He was named one of the 33 greatest Steelers of all time in 2008. He brought toughness to the Steelers defenses in the 1950s, long before nicknames like "Steel Curtain" were given.
His 52 interceptions were the second-most in the NFL at the time his career ended. With 52 interceptions in 103 games, Butler has the best interception rate (50.5 percent) of any player in the Hall of Fame. And this came during an era where game plans were built around running the ball, not throwing it.
"Jack Butler was one of the all-time great Steelers," team president Art Rooney II said.
After a vicious knee injury ended his playing career, Butler worked closely with the Steelers as a scout for more than 40 years. He helped Pittsburgh draft nine players who all would precede him in the Hall of Fame, including Terry Bradshaw and Joe Greene.
"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," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "He will be missed, but never forgotten."
Among the greatest compliments given to Butler is one that came shortly after he was voted into the Hall of Fame.
“Jack was one player,” longtime Pittsburgh executive Dan Rooney said, “who could have played with the great Steelers teams of the 1970s.”
I'm glad Butler got into the Hall of Fame after a half-century's wait. I'm also glad he got the chance to savor the moment of getting there.