Steelers Hall of Famer Jack Butler dies at 85

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PITTSBURGH (AP) - 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.

“He was an excellent person both on and off the field, and he played an integral role in the BLESTO scouting program and our entire draft process before his retirement,” Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said. “His family was very close to the entire Rooney family, and he will be missed.”

Butler served as the backbone of a string of mediocre to middling teams in the 1950s and his bruising style became a precursor to the “Steel Curtain” defense that has been the team’s hallmark for most of the last 40 years.

He was in his prime in 1959 when a collision with Philadelphia Eagles tight end Pete Retzlaff put an end to his playing days. The details of the play remained vivid more than 50 years later.

“He caught the ball and I was coming over to hit him, to tackle him and before I got to him, he tripped or caught his foot or something,” Butler said in July, 2012. “As he was going down, his shoulder hit my (left) knee.”

Butler knew the second he looked down at the smashed joint _ which appeared to be at a 90-degree angle with the rest of his leg _ he needed to think about what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

“It was just sticking out,” Butler said. “I knew I was in a lot of trouble.”

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