PITTSBURGH — Jack Butler, who helped revolutionize the way cornerbacks played in the NFL during his Hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, died Saturday after a lengthy battle with a staph infection. He was 85.
Butler’s son John said his father’s heart stopped suddenly Saturday morning. The elder Butler had spent the last several months in the hospital dealing with a staph infection that plagued him since his career ended in 1959.
“It had been a long road,” John Butler said. “It wasn’t completely out of the blue.”
Unlike Butler’s professional career.
The Pittsburgh native played wide receiver at St. Bonaventure and was planning on returning to school to get his master’s degree when he received a phone call from Steelers business manager Fran Fogarty in the summer of 1951. To be honest, Butler assumed Fogarty had the wrong number.
“I didn’t know anything about professional football,” Butler said.
It didn’t matter. Over the next nine years, Butler became one of the NFL’s top defensive backs, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound wrecking ball known for his physical play and uncanny knack for getting to the ball. Butler intercepted 52 passes during his career, including a league-high 10 in 1957. He made the Pro Bowl four times and was chosen first-team All-NFL three times before a knee injury in 1959 ended his career.
Butler remained close to the game after his retirement, becoming a prominent scout who worked closely with the Steelers for over 40 years.
During one stretch from 1969-74, Butler’s insight helped Pittsburgh draft nine players that would all precede him in the Hall of Fame, including Terry Bradshaw and Joe Greene. The group became the core of a franchise for the better part of a decade, helping Pittsburgh win four Super Bowls in the span of six years.