Local stars enshrined in Pro Football Hall of Fame
CANTON, Ohio – Amid all the fanfare, Jack Butler delivered a simple, to-the-point speech in taking his place along with five others in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
Butler, who spent nine years with the Steelers, was enshrined along with former Steelers center Dermontti Dawson and two former Pitt stars, defensive end Chris Doleman and running back Curtis Martin.
Seattle defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy and New Orleans offensive tackle Willie Roaf rounded out the Class of 2012.
Butler's speech resembled his style of play during a nine-year career highlighted by 52 interceptions and countless jaw-jarring blows. It wasn't complicated. It was direct but well-received by appreciative fans, some wearing his No.80 throwback jersey.
Butler, who spent nearly 40 years as director of the BLESTO scouting combine, thanked his family and friends, but mostly his wife, Bernadette, for encouraging him after he surprisingly made the Steelers' roster in 1951.
“I have been very fortunate and have lot to be thankful for,” Butler said. “I was born with a talent to play football. I was fortunate to play in the great city of champions – Pittsburgh, Pa.
“I never envisioned being here in Canton. This induction is the highest honor I've achieved in my professional career. I'm happy to have spent 50 years in a sport I love. I'm honored to be included with these great players.”
Raymond Berry, a Hall of Fame receiver, remembered some memorable battles with Butler.
“He had great instincts for the football,” Berry said. “So many players tried to emulate him. He had great instincts for the ball. He was one of the best I had ever seen.”
Butler insisted on the eve of his induction that he wouldn't choke up – that he wouldn't shed a tear. But he couldn't fight the feeling as he was ushered onto the stage one last time to celebrate a career that ended more than a half century ago.
A reflective Butler seemed somewhat relieved that he had finally been summoned to the hallowed halls that welcomed other Steelers greats such as Franco Harris, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Terry Bradshaw and Mel Blount.
Doleman and Dawson were near locks to make it here. Martin wasn't a sure shot to make it in the NFL but landed in Canton, in part, because of his dogged persistence and durability.
Martin, overcome with emotion in revealing the abuse his mother endured at the hands of his father, bared his soul to an attentive crowd. It was far more compelling than the more than 14,000 yards he covered and 90 touchdowns he scored during an 11-year career.
“This has been an incredible roll for me,” said Martin, who cried as he remembered the times he escaped death in East Pittsburgh. “I feel a little awkward and out of place. I was someone who was somewhat forced to play football. I remember my family and I sitting around during the draft when Bill Parcells called.
“I told everyone in the room, I do not want to play football,” he said, “and I don't know if I like football enough to make a career out of it.'
Martin's pastor told him maybe football is something he would do for all those other people.
“If he hadn't said that to me, I probably wouldn't have gotten out of football what I got out of it,” said Martin, the first Jet to be enshrined since quarterback Joe Namath in 1985.” I knew the love for the game wasn't in my heart.”
Martin said he didn't gain an appreciation for the game until he listened to Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson speech on Friday.
“Just the passion that Ralph Wilson has for the game that rubbed off on me,” he said. “I felt it was the first day I became a fan of football.”
“I was fortunate to be there for Curtis during his developmental stages,” said former coach Bill Parcells, his presenter. “My first impression was this was going to be our running back. Our first game, we handed him the ball seven straight times.”
Doleman, presented by his son, Evan Doleman, credited his Pitt coaches — Jackie Sherrill and Foge Fazio — for pointing him in the right direction.
He, too, credited his parents.
“My dad didn't like wasting money,” Doleman said. “That alone taught me about commitment. I finished the game I signed up for.”
Dawson succeeded Hall of Famer Mike Webster in the middle of the Steelers' offensive line.
“Very few things are the work of one person, and this is no exception,” said Dawson, who was presented by his high school coach, Steve Parker. “I want to thank the great “Iron” Mike Webster. Mike was a leader…and I tried to emulate everything he did.”
Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7923.