MIAMI - LeRoy Butler didn’t make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on his first try as a finalist.
The former Green Bay Packers safety has been eligible for the Hall for 14 years, but this was the first year he had his case discussed by the 48-person selection committee as one of the 15 finalists going for five slots in the Hall.
Butler had been in Miami for several days as a guest of the Hall making appearances Thursday and Friday, and then waited Saturday for the selection committee’s day-long meeting and vote. David Baker, the Hall’s president and CEO, informed Butler he wasn’t in with a phone call Saturday afternoon.
Many players are finalists multiple times before getting inducted into the Hall.
“It was fun being around the gold-jacket guys,” Butler said of making appearances with Hall of Famers over the weekend. “You know me, I’m a very optimistic guy. In the back of my mind I was going to have the same speech whether I made it or not. I appreciate what the fans have done, I appreciate family and friends, stuff like that. I’m just a very patient person.
“… One thing that that makes me feel really good is that at least I had my case heard. That’s very positive. You don’t get in the debate in the room, that’s when it’s very disappointing. For some guys it can be depressing, because they never get their shot. But as long as I know my case will be heard, I know it will happen soon.”
Butler didn’t survive the cutdown from 15 players to 10, and in a sign that there’s a backlog of finalists that many voters think are worthy of Hall induction, all five players who missed that cut were in their first year of eligibility. The others were Torry Holt, Sam Mills, Reggie Wayne and Bryant Young.
Four of the five players voted into the Hall had been finalists multiple times, and two of the five played the same position as Butler: safety.
Steve Atwater, one of the safeties, made it in his third time as a finalist. Troy Polamalu, another safety, was the lone candidate to make it this year on his first chance, which also was his first year of eligibility. The other three inductees are receiver Isaac Bruce (fourth-time finalist), guard Steve Hutchinson (third) and running back Edgerrin James (fourth).
Among the other five who made the final 10 but were not voted in were safety John Lynch (seventh), guard Alan Faneca (fifth), tackle Tony Boselli (fourth), and defensive linemen Richard Seymour (second) and Zach Thomas (one).
The Hall tweaked the voting procedure this year. As in past years, the selection committee first heard and debated the cases of all the players, and then cut the list from 15 to 10 on a secret ballot. Then, again as in past years, it cut the list from 10 to five. But instead of then voting up or down on each of the final five, with a candidate needing 80% approval to make the Hall, the cut to five served as the last vote, with all five automatically in the Hall.
Baker said the Hall is constantly tweaking the voting process and changed the procedure this year because the final five were always getting approved anyway – it has been more than a decade since one of the final five candidates was rejected.
Butler played his entire NFL career for the Packers, from 1990 through 2001. He was on the NFL’s all-1990s decade first team and was voted first-team All-Pro four times. He finished his career with 38 interceptions and 20½ sacks, which makes him one of only two safeties and four players total to accumulate at least 35 interceptions and 20 sacks.
The other safety to reach that mark was Brian Dawkins, who went into the Hall in 2017. The other two on the list were cornerbacks Charles Woodson, who is a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer next year, and Ronde Barber, who was a semifinalist (final 25) in Hall voting.
The 2020 Hall of Fame inductions, which will include former Packers defensive back Bobby Dillon, will take place this summer in Canton, Ohio. Dillon was voted in last month as part of a 15-member centennial class chosen by a blue-ribbon panel.
Dillon became the 26th member of the organization to be voted into the Hall, which puts the Packers at No. 2 on that list behind only the Chicago Bears (who have 30).