Go to the search page on the College Football Hall of Fame’s Web site and choose inductees by position.
Only one name pops up when you select punter – Thomson’s own Ray Guy.
Only one name pops up when you select place-kicker – Savannah-born and Stone Mountain-bred Kevin Butler.
That two native Georgians hold the monopoly on collegiate recognition isn’t the shocking part. That the extent of the kicking lists end with two in a sport called football remains one of the most troubling oversights in the game’s historical annals. It’s only slightly less troubling than the fact that just one pure kicker has ever graced the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Jan Stenerud).
Thankfully, the Augusta Sports Council has taken up the cause to heap praise on those who deserve more credit in the craft of kicking. On Thursday night, Butler joined greats like Guy and Stenerud in the American Football Kicking Hall of Fame.
“To make it into a hall of fame for that position, it’s probably the highest honor you can get if not the highest coming from other kickers,” Butler said.
Butler was enshrined Thursday night along with the late Jerrel Wilson, a punter for 15 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs (1963-77) who led the AFL and NFL in punting average four times. Wilson also kicked for Guy’s alma mater, Southern Miss.
Butler’s standout career with the Georgia Bulldogs and the Chicago Bears took him to Sugar Bowls and Super Bowls. He set team, NCAA and franchise records along the way and earned a world championship ring with the 1985 Bears.
Yet he hates that more of his peers and predecessors don’t get enough mainstream recognition for their integral role in a team game.
“We’re an afterthought,” Butler said. “It’s a team sport, yet they’re going to discard this one part of it? It’s so funny because it’s that roulette part. You’re going to pull the trigger on it and it’s either good or bad. For players to discount that is just boneheaded and blindness for not recognizing it.”
Butler and his son, Drew, are the only related tandem to be recognized at the annual All-Area Football Banquet. Drew Butler won the Ray Guy Award in 2009 as the nation’s best punter as a sophomore at Georgia. In a few months he might make the Butlers only the second father-son kicking specialists to reach the NFL, joining English place-kickers Bobby and Ian Howfield.
The elder Butler believes his son – who learned to punt at Guy’s kicking camp in 10th grade – has what it takes to have a 13-year career as he had.
“The potential that Drew has gets me excited,” Butler said. “Certainly I was excited when I played and had that potential and opportunity. You just want him to have those same opportunities. The way he goes about preparing is very professional. … You just have to take advantage of whatever opportunity comes. There’s only 32 positions in the world and you’re trying to get one of them. Just be ready.”
Butler’s enshrinement caps a memorable year. Not only did he get to follow Drew’s senior campaign to an SEC East title as a radio host covering the Bulldogs, one of Butler’s greatest feats got widely recalled. The passing of Georgia play-by-play legend Larry Munson brought renewed attention to Butler’s famous 60-yard field goal that beat No. 2 Clemson in 1984.
“So we’ll try to kick one a hundred thousand miles,” Munson said in setting up the winning attempt placed a half-yard on Georgia’s side of the 50. “And Butler kicked a long one – a long one! Oh my God! Oh my God! The stadium is worse than bonkers. Eleven seconds. I can’t believe what he did. This is ungodly.”
It was so clutch that famed columnist Lewis Grizzard wrote a letter to the son he hoped to one day have and name Kevin in Butler’s honor.
“I hugged perfect strangers and kissed a fat lady on the mouth,” Grizzard wrote of that moment in Sanford Stadium. “Grown men wept. Lightning flashed. Thunder rolled. Stars fell, and joy swept through, fetched by a hurricane of unleashed emotions.”
It was a week later before Butler, at his parents’ urging, heard that Munson call he has grown to appreciate even more through the years.
“I probably get more stories of people coming up to me and telling me they remember exactly where they were,” Butler said. “That’s pretty cool. You don’t want to be on the other end of that story. People don’t come up to you and say, ‘I remember where I was when you missed that field goal.’”
It’s been an extraordinary postseason for kicking failures, including Georgia’s Blair Walsh missing two in overtime at the Outback Bowl, Stanford’s kicker Jordan Williamson failing in regulation and overtime of the Fiesta Bowl, and Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff missing a relatively short effort that would have sent the AFC Championship into overtime.
Butler sees these failures and others like them as just another example of the value of kicking being overlooked.
“I squarely blame it on the coaches,” Butler said. “As silly as that sounds, the coaches at the high school, college and pro levels draft and sign punters and then send them off to a field to miraculously get better by themselves. I’ve never known a coach to draft a quarterback and told him to go throw over on the other field and be ready Saturday or Sunday. They coach them. They coach them on technique and mental ability. And for some odd reason, coaches just don’t recognize that for kickers.”
Does he cringe whenever a kicker fails in the spotlight?
“I feel for them unless it’s somebody missing a kick against Georgia,” Butler said.
“Then it’s just tough luck at that point. But I do feel for them. How could you not? I’ve been there and done that. There’s a lot of people behind that kicker who are affected by it – his family and maybe he has kids. You’ve got to live that for a week until you get another shot or live that for a whole off-season, which is a horrible thing.”
Butler has earned his just due for a career living on the edge of heroics and disaster that kickers often walk without enough appreciation.
Maybe one day he and Guy and another ex-Bulldog such as ageless NFL veteran John Kasay will see the door opened to them in the big hall of fame.
Until then, kickers will just have to enjoy relevance in the moment when called upon.
“It’s a big part of the game and I’m sure one of those kickers will play a big part in it Sunday,” said Butler of the upcoming Super Bowl.
Maybe if they’re really lucky, they too can inspire a fan base to go worse than bonkers.