No one who works at Halas Hall was more excited about Clemson's epic victory over Alabama in Monday night's College Football Playoff national championship game than Jerry Butler.
The Bears director of player engagement starred at Clemson as a wide receiver in the late 1970s before being selected by the Buffalo Bills with the fifth overall pick in the 1979 NFL Draft.
In a thrilling title contest at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the Tigers rallied to stun Alabama 35-31 on Deshaun Watson's 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfro with :01 remaining.
"That was one of the best football games; a tale of two halves," Butler said Tuesday. "It was nerve-wracking. That's a gritty football team and they've got a great belief system: 'We've got time on the clock, let's use it all up and grind for every second.' It was just Clemson's time."
Butler spent his entire seven-year NFL career with the Bills, appearing in 88 games with 80 starts and catching 278 passes for 4,301 yards and 29 touchdowns. Prior to joining the Bears in 2015, he worked in player development with the Bills, Browns and Broncos.
Through the years, Butler has remained close to the Clemson football program. A year ago he was presented with the prestigious Brian Dawkins Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor given to a former Tigers letterman for outstanding achievement after graduating from the school.
"I know the kind of job that [head coach] Dabo Swinney has done for that program and the young men that come out of there," Butler said. "They love him. I love him because he even reaches out to us alumni. I don't even know how he knows I'm in town sometimes. But my phone rings and he asks, 'Hey, will you come say something to the football team?' Of course, I run right over.
"You can tell that there's a lot of love and genuine care and concern on that campus for those young men. When you go on campus and guys are smiling, laughing and having a good time, you know they're believing in something and the results are showing up there."
An All-American at Clemson, Butler made one of the most memorable plays in school history in 1977 when he caught the winning touchdown pass with :49 remaining in a 31-27 comeback victory over South Carolina that sent the Tigers to their first bowl game since 1959.
The quarterback who threw that pass was none other than Steve Fuller, a Clemson legend who spent three of his seven-year NFL career with the Bears from 1984-86, winning a Super Bowl ring as Jim McMahon's backup on the famed 1985 team.
"Steve was very accurate, a great leader and a great voice," Butler said. "He just had that 'it' factor. He made you believe in things."
Fuller's No. 4 jersey had been retired by Clemson in 1979. But when Watson arrived as a freshman, Swinney knew that the five-star recruit had worn the number in high school. So Swinney asked Fuller, a golfing buddy, if he would be OK with Watson wearing No. 4 along with a patch that included Fuller's name.
Fuller was on board with the idea and Watson wore No. 4 throughout his Clemson career.
According to a story written in 2014 on the school's website, reissuing the No. 4 was "a great way to educate a new generation of Clemson fans about Fuller's accomplishments, because they were significant." The story referred to Fuller's career as "the most important in school history because it jump-started the rebirth of Clemson football in the 1970s. Those accomplishments have had a direct effect on what has been accomplished in recent years under Swinney's direction."
Roster move: In other news Tuesday, the Bears signed veteran receiver
Randle was selected by the Giants in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He appeared in 64 games with 33 starts over four seasons from 2012-15, catching 188 passes for 2,644 yards and 20 touchdowns. Randle spent part of the 2016 offseason with the Eagles.