By Rick Gosselin
Talk of Fame Network
Jack Butler is the only player in NFL history to average at least one defensive takeaway every two games.
Butler played defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers for nine seasons in the 1950s, intercepting 52 passes and recovering 10 fumbles in 103 career games. He was named to the 1960s NFL all-decade team. He also was one of only three cornerbacks named to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team.
Yet Butler had to wait 50 years to be discussed and debated for the very first time as a Hall of Fame finalist. That came in 2012 and Butler was promptly elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sadly, he passed away less than nine months later at the age of 85.
Players like Jack Butler are the reason the Pro Football Hall of Fame has a senior committee.
My Talk of Fame Sports Network compadre Ron Borges and I both serve on that nine-member committee. It’s our task to find the players who have slipped through the cracks of the selection process. Our committee is allowed to nominate one senior candidate this year. The committee will meet on Wednesday (Aug. 20) to select that candidate for the Class of 2015.
When a player retires, he faces a five-year waiting period before becoming eligible for enshrinement. Then he has a 20-year window of eligibility as a modern-era candidate. If that player does not gain enshrinement during those 25 years, he becomes a senior candidate.
Everyone in the senior pool is a longshot for Canton.
Every NFL franchise believes it has 2-3 players who have not received a fair shake from the selection process. For Dallas, it’s Drew Pearson, Harvey Martin and Cliff Harris. For Kansas City, it’s Otis Taylor, Johnny Robinson and Ed Budde. For Oakland it’s Ken Stabler, Cliff Branch and Todd Christensen.
There are 26 established franchises, so that’s a pool of about 75 worthy senior candidates right there. But our committee can resurrect the candidacies of only one player this year and two the next.
When I was appointed to the committee in 2004, I spent about two weeks compiling a list of players I believed to be worthy of senior consideration — players who made all-decade teams, who went to multi-Pro Bowls, who were NFL MVPs and individual statistical champions.
My initial list included about 80 such players. There was a common thread. Many of them were defensive players who didn’t win championships. Like Jack Butler. And Les Richter. And Dick LeBeau.
Richter went to eight Pro Bowls in his nine seasons with the Rams. The only season he missed was his final season in 1962 when team injuries forced him to move to center. He also was the placekicker for a Rams team that reached the 1955 NFL title game.
Richter waited 46 years to be discussed as a finalist for the first time in 2011 as a senior candidate. He was elected to the Hall of Fame but the honor came posthumously. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 79.
LeBeau ranks third among pure cornerbacks with 62 interceptions for the Detroit Lions. He waited 33 years to be discussed for the first time as a finalist. He was enshrined in the Class of 2010.
Dave Robinson waited 34 years to be discussed as a finalist for the first time. Chris Hanburger waited 28 years for his first turn in the room and Curley Culp 27. All were enshrined.
There are too many quality players who have never even been discussed as finalists. The senior committee exists to remind them they have not been forgotten.
Follow Rick Gosselin on Twitter at @RickGosselinDMN
Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers