LeRoy Butler will be officially inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame this Saturday, a day that has been forthcoming since the former Packers’ safety retired in 2001.
A standout defensive player on the Packers’ most recent Super Bowl teams and the originator of the Lambeau Leap, Butler is a most deserving and popular choice that few would argue does not belong.
What is up for debate, though, is whether Butler belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a place for which most longtime football experts may not give him much consideration. The following is a brief attempt to let those experts know that Butler does belong in the other Hall, too.
Butler was every ounce a leader as Reggie White for the Packers during an unparalleled string of winning seasons which included two Super Bowl appearances. While White came to Green Bay as one of the NFL’s most dominant and respected players and thus an instant team leader, Butler had to earn his respect coming to conservative Titletown in 1989 from the brashness of Florida St.
After a brief stint at cornerback in his early NFL days, Butler settled in at safety. With the help of defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur, he began to flourish as one of the league’s best safeties. In the process, he became a vocal and determined leader. He was a fresh voice for the media and his team without being overbearing or brash. He was the type of defensive leader the Packers could have only dreamed of in 1989 and quite frankly have been looking for the last six years.
Every game week, Butler held his own unannounced mini-press conference. It was right in front of his locker, usually near the end of the allocated open locker room time for the media. It was always a longer session than any other player, too. Butler had much to say. He was honest, upfront, and fair and rarely fed writers and reporters the company line. He gave them the pulse of the team. For that, he was not only entertaining and informative, but always made important points that a nearby player might hear or that others may catch wind of via a television news report. Through it all, he remained professional.
Butler’s Lambeau Leap against the Raiders the day after Christmas in 1993 left an indelible image in Green Bay and around the NFL that none of his interviews could have ever matched. Just take a look at the number of players around the league today celebrating a touchdown by jumping in the stands. They are everywhere.
Such moments may not necessarily make for Hall of Fame material, but combined with Butler’s intangibles and above average career, the “fame” of the Lambeau Leap should be considered in his overall evaluation. While it may not have occurred in a meaningful game like Franco Harris’ immaculate reception or Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak, it is no less representative of a great moment in NFL history and is a reason people in this country have embraced football as the most popular sport. It created a lasting unique bond between players and fans.
When teammate Robert Brooks, who fittingly is being inducted with Butler this weekend, took the Lambeau Leap to the next level in the years thereafter, a singular moment became a routine touchdown procedure that would eventually spread throughout the league. It became perhaps the most appropriate and respectful way to celebrate.
For those who may not buy into Butler’s intangibles as Hall of Fame worthy, he still has the numbers and game to make him a consideration. He became an all-around force at safety as blitzer, covering opposing tight ends, and making big plays. His 38 career interceptions in 12 seasons are more than a respectable total, and combined with his 20.5 sacks, he was remarkably versatile.
Perhaps the best case for Butler is that he was one of the best at his position during his era. For a six-year stretch from 1993-98, he put up his best numbers. As a result, he was named to the 1990’s All-Decade Team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He also made four Pro Bowl appearances and was named to the Associated Press All-Pro team five times.
More than anything, a great attitude made Butler a great player. That may not count as much as statistics on a national level, but it made him just as important as White to the Packers. What he may have lacked in size and speed he made up for in heart and leadership, and that needs to get its due recognition.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.