JACK BUTLER - A PITTSBURGH STEELER 1951-1959
Jack Butler was signed by the Steelers as an offensive end and after switching to defensive end found a home as a cornerback/safety.
The earliest note your editor has of Jack is the 1952 media guide thumbnail:
“Jack”… 6’1”, 195 lbs… end… former St. Bonaventure star… developed into a top defensive halfback last fall… expected to play some offense this year… his father was a great athlete… native Pittsburgher.
Those two final facts, about his father and being a Pittsburgh native, are probably the relevant reasons why Jack Butler became a Steeler.
When the Pittsburgh Press ran a series on former Steeler players to celebrate the team’s 50th anniversary, they printed an interesting interview with Butler in which he revealed how he had become a Steeler.
Butler was born in Oakland, grew up in a sports atmosphere near Forbes Field and went to prep school and college with Frank Thomas, a neighbour who became a big home run hitter for the Pirates.
One summer, Butler was home from St. Bonaventure University, where he had played football and was then attending graduate school.
“I fully intended to go back to school,” said Butler. “Fran Fogarty called from the Steelers and asked me if I wanted to try out for the team. I thought, ‘Hey, this is a terrific way to spend my summer. I won’t make the team, but it will be a great way to pass the time.’ I never went back to school.”
Job-wise, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do. I guess what I didn’t want to do was to go to work.”
Instead of returning to school, Butler lived the dream and became a pro football player for his local team. Every Steeler fan’s dream came true for Jack Butler.
He recorded 52 interceptions in just 103 games and when he retired, only Hall of Famers Dick “Night Train” Lane and Emlen Tunnell had more interceptions.
The highlight of his defensive career was four interceptions against the Washington Redskins on December 13, 1953. On one of the steals, Butler jumped high in the air, squirmed away from the intended receiver and returned the ball 35 yards to seal the 14-13 win for the Steelers.
The highlight as a receiver occurred when he scored a touchdown and then kicked the point after. “We were playing the Giants in New York and I went in on offense late in the game and caught a touchdown pass from Jim Finks.”
Butler was named to his first All Pro team in 1955 and this recognition of his ability lasted until his retirement.
Butler was forced to retire after an injury received in 1959. “It was a freaky thing. It happened on a play away from me. It was a little slot pass. Pete Retzlaff stumbled and fell and hit me on the knee on his way down. He hit me right below the knee. That was it. I’d been hit a lot harder many times.”
His best salary with the Steelers was about $12,000. In his modesty, Jack Butler observed, “I thought I made a helluva lot of money.”
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