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Hall-bound Butler has family in South Hills

| Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012, 12:43 p.m.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers Cornerback and pro football scout Jack Butler with mementos from from his football days at his Munhall home on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010.
Sidney L. Davis | Tribune-Review
Former Pittsburgh Steelers Cornerback and pro football scout Jack Butler with mementos from from his football days at his Munhall home on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010. Sidney L. Davis | Tribune-Review

This weekend, fans across the region will rejoice as Jack Butler becomes yet another Steelers' legend to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

To one Baldwin family in particular, Butler's induction is special for another reason.

While the Hobarts are football fans, Butler is more than merely a gridiron great; he's the family patriarch.

Bernie Hobart is Butler's daughter, meaning her children - T.J. and Katie - will watch their grandfather enshrined as one of the sport's all-time greats in Canton, Ohio, on Saturday.

Bernie said the feelings she's having are nearly impossible to describe. She explained that, obviously, her entire family knew that their father/grandfather was a former Steeler player. They knew he was good, but because he is so humble, they never realized just how good he really was.

"Well, it's hard to explain," said Bernie, the fourth of Butler's eight children. "None of us ever saw dad play. "We've all heard how great he was from everybody else."

Butler, a Pittsburgh native, had a storied career.

After playing college football at St. Bonaventure University where he was a starting wide receiver in the late 1940s, Butler signed with the Steelers in 1951. He played receiver and defensive end before settling in the secondary.

For the next nine seasons, he was one of the league's elite cornerbacks, playing in the pro bowl four times. When a knee injury forced him to retire in 1959, he was second in NFL history with a staggering 52 interceptions.

After his playing days were done, Butler spent 37 years as an NFL scout and is recognized as a pioneer in that profession.

Despite his greatness, for decades it seemed as if the opportunity to be inducted had come and gone.

Players are eligible for induction five years after they retire. But Butler, now 84, had to wait more than 50 years.

"Yes, absolutely, I thought the window had closed," Bernie said. "He quit playing football 53 years ago. You would think that if he didn't make it by now, he wouldn't make it."

That all changed on Feb. 4, the day before Super Bowl XLVI. That's when it was announced that Butler had been voted in.


In Pittsburgh, dozens of members of the Butler family celebrated.

"Our family was all together, it was amazing," Katie said. "We were all so nervous, so excited. It was indescribable."

In Charlottesville, Va., Katie's brother T.J. traded high-fives and hugs with his friends. T.J. is a student-athlete at the University of Virginia and watched the induction announcement from campus.

"I was watching it with a bunch of my friends ... it was a big deal," said T.J., a senior middle-distance runner on the Cavaliers' track team. "It was such a great feeling, and more than anything, I was just overwhelmingly proud at what my grandpa had accomplished."

It's not surprising that Butler's grandchildren are athletes.

T.J. and Katie both played sports growing up and throughout their Baldwin High School careers, but both say they rarely thought of their grandfather - who they affectionately call "Jack" - in terms of sports.

"Growing up, you wouldn't expect him to be this great athlete; he was just your grandpa," said Katie, a junior pharmacy major at Duquesne University. "You were raised with him just being your grandpa.

"We all knew he was a Steeler, but he's not real open about it. He's a very humble man. To find out he was that good was amazing."

Like his grandfather nearly six dec-ades ago, T.J. is majoring in English. He says that he and his grandfather have bonded over that common ground - books and literature - more than athletics.

"We're a pretty close-knit family, but sports has never been a huge thing with me and Jack," he said. "He's such a humble and modest guy, he's never really talked about how good he was. When someone would say, ‘your grandpa was great,' he'd grumble it off.

"That's what makes this an awesome thing in our family. We're all really proud of him. This is a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment."

While Butler has been humble about his athletic greatness for his entire life, this weekend the spotlight will finally shine on his astounding career and, maybe, he will finally brag just a little.

The cameras will be rolling and his family - a massive contingent of them - will be in attendance.

"Oh my yeah, everybody in my family will be up there," Katie said. "We're all going up to Canton and we'll be having a good time.

"We'll be there to support Jack. We'll all be there for him, and we're just going to let him go out there and enjoy the experience."

In addition to Butler, the Pro Football Hall of Fame class includes Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf.

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