Jack Butler never had played football when he left Pittsburgh for a seminary in Canada, wanting to be a priest. That did not work out, so he moved on to St. Bonaventure College and wound up in a dorm room with three other freshmen, all football players.
"They went out for football, so I went out with them," Butler said. "They gave me a uniform, but I never did anything. I got my butt kicked for two years and didn't play until I was a junior. I played receiver on offense and didn't start until my senior year."
No pro team drafted him, but his hometown Steelers signed him as a free-agent rookie and put him at defensive end. A cornerback was injured early that season, so they moved Butler there and he became one of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history during the decade of the 1950s.
Wednesday, he became one of the seniors committee's two annual candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"I really appreciate it, it's a great honor and I enjoy it and the whole bit," said Butler, who was born in Pittsburgh, grew up in Whitehall and lives in Munhall. "I didn't expect it. I'm getting to a point, I'm getting up there, you know? But I'm glad it happened."
Butler, 83, retired after nine seasons in 1959 with 52 career interceptions, second most in the NFL at the time. He made four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams and the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1950s. He was forced into retirement by a leg injury so severe it nearly killed him when infection set in.
Butler became a coach briefly, then went into scouting with the Steelers and became director of the BLESTO scouting network that formed in the early 1960s, a job he held for 4 1/2 decades before retiring three years ago. Through the years, he trained hundreds of scouts who worked for him and went on to scouting, personnel and general manager jobs in the NFL. That group included Kevin Colbert, the Steelers director of football operations, and his predecessor, Tom Donahoe.
Butler joins former Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins guard Dick Stanfel, also an all-1950s team member, as the two seniors finalists for election in the Hall's Class of 2012. They will join 15 modern-era candidates on the ballot; the other candidates will not be chosen until December. The two seniors do not compete with the modern candidates for a spot in the Hall but are voted on separately, and often both seniors are elected.
Butler stood 6 feet 1 and weighed 200 pounds when he made the Steelers as a defensive end on the final cut of the 1951 season, the last of six coached by John Michelosen.
"I still thought I was a receiver. I always wanted to be a receiver. I was a defensive end. About the second game, a guy got hurt, and Michelosen put me in at defensive back, and that was it."
He would become a prolific pass receiver as a cornerback, turning them into all those interceptions.
"You never know how things turn out, you know?" Butler said. "That was the beginning of it. I really loved it. I had a lot of fun."