Posted on March 30, 2012 - by ChuckFinder
The evaluator was still at work.
Despite a glory-draped, newly-Cantonized career as a defensive back, earning him the same interception plane as Emlen Tunnell and Dick “Night Train” Lane, this 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist when we sat down for an interview was thinking more like the executive who spent four decades overseeing the NFL’s main scouting operation, BLESTO.
See Jack Butler evaluate.
He evaluates fast. He evaluates big. He evaluates ability, even when talking about Steelers teammates. Even when talking about himself.
“I’m the smallest guy there,” Butler said of the single-wing Steelers at Cambridge Springs, Pa., training camp in 1951. ” ‘Why the hell don’t we ever throw the ball?’ . . . I finally went to him, ‘Coach Michelosen, I’ll never make this team. I’m a wide receiver. You don’t throw the ball that much. I want to quit and go to Detroit, ‘cause I know this coach up there and I think I might have a chance to make that team.’ He says, ‘You can’t go anywhere until I cut you.’ I said, ‘When are you going to cut me?’ ‘I’ll let you know.’
“He changed me to defensive end. Now I’m the smallest defensive end. The two defensive ends were Bill McPeak and Chuck Mehelich. The [third] guy gets cut. I made it as a defensive end.” A few games into the season, Michelosen sends in Butler as an injury replacement, but Butler couldn’t tell whom he was replacing until he reached the injured player — shock, surprise, a defensive back. “Best thing that ever happened to me: I was a defensive back.”
His hands arthritic and rough, Butler snatches a name from the air and makes an interesting perception — rather than an interception as in his 1951-59 playing days. The body of this septuagenarian is a bit worse for football wear after a horrific broken leg ended his Pro Bowl career, but his memory and mind and scouting toolbox remain sharp. Over a Panera’s coffee one fall morn, he talked about coaches from Johnny Michelosen to Joe Bach to Buddy Parker, teammates from Lynn Chandnois to Johnny Lattner (the only Heisman Trophy winner to play in a Steelers uniform) to Ernie Stautner.
“You’d be surprised by Ernie,” said Butler, whose 52 picks rank second in Steelers history to Hall of Famer Mel Blount — who had four years to grab five more interceptions than Butler. “Everything you read about the game today, they’re 6-3, 6-4, 300 pounds [on the line]. Ernie was no bigger than I was. I may have been taller, I’m not sure. He’d come to camp 230. In the season, I bet he’d play at 215, 220. He wasn’t big. But he was strong for his size.”
How Butler came to St. Bonaventure College and its football team, let alone the Steelers secondary, are chapters unto themselves.
His father knew Art Rooney Sr., who recommended the Olean, N.Y., school. Once there, the Chief’s brother — Athletic Director Father Silas Rooney — told him to go out for football. A Hall of Fame playing and administrative career ensued. After being named a senior-committee finalist last fall, Butler was voted into Canton at the Super Bowl in February. He’ll be enshrined in the Hall of Fame with fellow ex-Steeler Dermontti Dawson in August. Both gentlemen contributed greatly to the book, for the record. They contributed greatly to the game, too.
Folks took a photograph at the NFL Combine a few years ago of all the BLESTO scouts Butler helped to send into NFL front offices. Butler — whose name Pittsburgh’s Michael Keaton invoked for his character in “Mr. Mom” — couldn’t believe the crowd on the old RCA Dome floor: 45 or so.
The evaluator left an impact on the league far beyond 52 interceptions.
Next “The Steelers Encyclopedia blog Friday, April 6