This time, it was the Chargers' turn to say good-bye.
More than 200 people attended a memorial service in north San Diego County for former general manager John Butler on Friday. Butler, who died of cancer on April 11 at age 56, was warmly remembered by numerous people -- from those involved with the NFL, to neighbors trading hellos every morning when picking up their newspapers.
It easy to say Butler's mark was made in Buffalo. And what a mark, in helping build a Bills team which went to four straight Super Bowls.
But his mark was also felt -- not on such a grand scale -- by a franchise which first gave him his first NFL job in the mid-1980s as a scout. A franchise which hungers for the type of success which was the soup du jour for so many years in Buffalo.
Butler's stamp has been on the past three drafts, although he died before the Chargers got on the clock this past one. Still, along with the front-office brass of A.J. Smith and Buddy Nix, Butler was truly in the mix of the Chargers' latest haul of players.
It's hard to dispute the previous two collection of prospects, where Butler drafted running back LaDainian Tomlinson, quarterback Drew Brees, guard Toniu Fonoti, linebackers Ben Leber and Carlos Polk, to name a few. How the Chargers do in the near future depends greatly on how Butler did in the recent past.
Among those speaking were Marcellus Wiley, the Pro Bowl defensive end Butler plucked from Columbia in the second-round of the '97 draft while at Buffalo. Also speaking were ex-Bills coach Marv Levy -- who credited Butler's work for landing him in the Hall of Fame -- and ESPN's Chris Berman.
"Through the years I have had some success and some failures, but Mr. Butler cared about one thing -- the way did it," Wiley said. "I could have a two-sack game, but that didn't impress Mr. Butler. He wanted to know if I gave it my all, if I elevated my teammates' game." Butler, who was buried a week before the draft in Illinois, will be close to the Chargers throughout the year.
Smith noted how Butler always wanted to be in the middle of things. He'll be there this year, too, for the Chargers, as Smith unveiled a 2003 jersey bearing his initials, "JB."
"You Chargers players should know that he is going to be watching you from up above this season," said Berman, who was a favorite of Butler's so much that he would told him the Bills first pick for about seven years.
Butler is gone, but his legacy lives on by just peeking at the Chargers' roster. And, by looking at the uniforms they'll proudly wear next season.
Butler Stamp Lives On
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