LeRoy Butler's biography was called "From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap." An updated version might need to be titled "From Wheelchair to Canton, Ohio."
Butler, the standout safety from the Green Bay Packers' 1990s Super Bowl teams, is among the 111 players on the preliminary list for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Joining Butler on the list is Ron Wolf, the architect of those Super Bowl teams, and Lee Remmel, who has covered the Packers for 61 years and a couple years ago was appointed the team's historian.
As they say at the Academy Awards, just being nominated is an honor, and in Butler's and Wolf's cases, the honor is richly deserved.
Butler revolutionized the way safeties could impact a game. No longer confined to merely being a last line of defense or a lightweight linebacker used in run support or to cover a plodding tight end, Butler finished his career with 38 interceptions and 20.5 sacks. Drafted as a cornerback, Butler had the coverage skills to match up against receivers, yet was a sturdy tackler to thwart the running game. In today's NFL, Butler's versatility would have been even more important, and he might have piled up even gaudier stats.
Beyond all of that, Butler — a member of the NFL's all-1990s team — was a leader and an energizing force, and he brought an unmatched football IQ.
Oh, and did I mention he invented the Lambeau Leap, when he took a lateral from Reggie White on a fumble recovery and raced for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 26, 1993? His stats will be forgotten, and even the Super Bowl championship will fade a bit in memory, but the Lambeau Leap will live forever among fans.
Not a bad career resume for a guy who spent part of his childhood in a wheelchair because of a rare bone disorder in his feet that caused him to wear braces that prevented him from running.
"People say they don't think about it, but I was always thinking about it as a little kid sitting in that wheelchair, thinking what if I get out of this wheelchair and into the Hall of Fame?" Butler told Packers.com.
Wolf's contribution barely needs to be recounted. He fired Lindy Infante, hired Mike Holmgren, traded for Brett Favre and signed Reggie White, the latter move starting a cavalcade of other important signings such as Sean Jones, Santana Dotson and Keith Jackson. Throw in a bunch of brilliant draft picks, and the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI and should have won Super Bowl XXXII.
The list of 111 candidates will be cut to 15 finalists, and between three and six will pass muster by Hall of Fame voters. The new inductees will be announced the day before the Super Bowl.
How good a chance do Butler and Wolf have? Certainly, when you look at the list of newcomers (at the end of this posting), Butler shined brighter than most. Perhaps only Denver running back Terrell Davis and Oilers/Titans offensive lineman Bruce Matthews were better players, and Davis will be hamstrung by having only played seven seasons.
Seven players from last year’s list of 15 finalists are back on the ballot: running back Thurman Thomas, wide receivers Michael Irvin and Art Monk, offensive linemen Russ Grimm, Gary Zimmerman and Bob Kuechenberg, and linebacker Derrick Thomas. In that group, only Grimm and Monk have both the career accomplishments and Super Bowl ring that Butler possesses.
Wolf’s accomplishments speak for themselves, but the biggest one is this: He turned Green Bay, unaffectionately called NFL’s Siberia, into a desired attraction for marquee players.
In the final analysis, the Packers’ Super Bowl XXXI championship team is one of the greatest teams of the Super Bowl era. The Packers boasted the NFL’s best offense and best defense. White’s in the Hall of Fame, and Favre will join him five years after he retires. Two players aren’t enough. Not for a team that was so dominant.
“I think three people from that ’90s team should be in the Hall of Fame — me, Brett and Reggie," Butler said. “Reggie’s already in there, Brett’s a shoo-in, and now I’m bringing up the caboose. Hopefully, I can do it."
PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME NOMINEES
Players nominated in first year of eligibility
Quarterback - Randall Cunningham.
Running backs - Terrell Davis, Ricky Watters.
Offensive linemen - Bruce Matthews (G/C/T), Randall McDaniel (G), Mark Stepnoski (C/G), Steve Wisniewski (G).
Defensive backs - Eric Allen, LeRoy Butler, Carnell Lake.
Nominees held over from 2005
Quarterbacks - Ken Anderson, Bernie Kosar, Jim Plunkett, Phil Simms, Brian Sipe, Ken Stabler, Joe Theismann.
Running backs - Roger Craig, Greg Pruitt, *Thurman Thomas, Herschel Walker.
Wide receivers - Cliff Branch, Harold Carmichael, Gary Clark, Mark Clayton, Isaac Curtis, Mark Duper, Henry Ellard, *Michael Irvin, *Art Monk, Drew Pearson, Andre Reed.
Tight ends - Mark Bavaro, Todd Christensen, Ben Coates, Brent Jones, Steve Jordan.
Offensive linemen - Jim Covert (T), Dermontti Dawson (C), *Russ Grimm (G), Jay Hilgenberg (C), Chris Hinton (G/T), Kent Hull (C), Joe Jacoby (T), Mike Kenn (T), *Bob Kuechenberg (G), Jeff Van Note (C), *Gary Zimmerman (T).
Defensive linemen: Fred Dean (DE), Richard Dent (DE), Chris Doleman (DE/LB), Charles Haley (DE/LB), Ed "Too Tall" Jones (DE), Joe Klecko (DE/DT/NT), Dexter Manley (DE), Charles Mann (DE), Fred Smerlas (NT).
Linebackers: Cornelius Bennett, Robert Brazile, Randy Gradishar, Kevin Greene, Ken Harvey, Rickey Jackson, Clay Matthews, Karl Mecklenburg, Sam Mills, John Offerdahl, Darryl Talley, *Derrick Thomas, Andre Tippett.
Defensive backs: Steve Atwater (S), Joey Browner (S), Raymond Clayborn (CB), Kenny Easley (S), David Fulcher (SS), Lester Hayes (CB), Albert Lewis (CB), Lemar Parrish (CB), Ken Riley (CB), Donnie Shell (S), Roger Wehrli (CB), Louis Wright (CB).
Kicker/punter: Ray Guy (P), Nick Lowery (K), Reggie Roby (P).
Special teams: Steve Tasker.
Coaches and contributors
Coaches: Don Coryell, Tom Flores, Jimmy Johnson, Chuck Knox, Buddy Parker, Dan Reeves, Clark Shaughnessy, Dick Vermeil.
Contributors: Bud Adams Jr., Gil Brandt, C.O. Brocato, Joe Browne, Ed DeBartolo Jr., Jerry Jones, Bucko Kilroy, Art Modell, Bill Nunn, Lee Remmel, Ed Sabol, Steve Sabol, Rex Stuart, Paul Tagliabue, Ralph Wilson Jr., Ron Wolf, George Young.
Players marked with an asterisk (*) were part of last year's list of 15 finalists.
Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.