LeRoy Butler catalyzed the Lambeau Leap for the Green Bay Packers, one of the greatest traditions in the NFL

JR Radcliffe
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
View Comments
Green Bay Packers running back A.J. Dillon celebrates scoring his first of two rushing touchdowns with a Lambeau leap during a November win at Lambeau Field.

The Lambeau Leap was born Dec. 26, 1993, in a game between the Packers and Los Angeles Raiders, but nobody knew it immediately.

There was too much else to consider from the brutally cold game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, a 28-0 win that featured wind chills of 22 degrees below zero, marking the second-coldest game in stadium history at the time. In the process of securing the shutout, the Packers also clinched a playoff spot for the first time in 10 years, the front end of what would become a three-decade march of excellence.

But in short order, LeRoy Butler's jump into the stands behind the south end zone became recognized as a key moment in Packers history. And nearly 30 years later, Butler is once again on the cusp of being voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a finalist to be one of the five modern-day enshrinees (the 2022 class will be revealed Thursday night). His leap is a major part of his Packers legacy.

More:These are the coldest games the Green Bay Packers have played in Lambeau Field history after the Ice Bowl

More:50 Greatest Wisconsin Sports Moments: The Lambeau Leap

Reggie White, who achieved his own Canton enshrinement in 2006, was a monster, accounting for 2½ sacks out of the season-high eight amassed by the Packers pass rush overall against the Raiders that day.

It was a play in which White played a role, though not one he finished, that ultimately became cemented in Packers lore.

The first Lambeau Leap

LeRoy Butler and the "Lambeau Leap"

Early in the fourth quarter with the Packers ahead, by a 14-0 count, Raiders backup quarterback Vince Evans found fullback Randy Jordan on a short pass, but the safety Butler was there quickly for the punishing tackle and jarred the ball loose in the process, right into White's arms. The Minister of Defense made a move upfield, and as he was getting twisted out of bounds, lateraled to Butler, who carried it the final 25 yards for his first career touchdown. 

As he celebrated the dagger score, Butler pumped his arms toward the stands and jumped into the crowd to celebrate with the first row.

Butler wasn't asked afterward about his leap into the crowd. Even radio broadcasters Jim Irwin and Max McGee, in the confusion of the play, didn't even know it was a touchdown until Butler had descended from his perch in the stands.

The postgame emphasis, understandably, was on Green Bay's return to the postseason, the lights-out play of White and the defensive line and the test ahead in Detroit. 

"This will be one of the biggest games of our careers," said Butler afterward, referring to the following week's game against Detroit, a clash that could have given the Packers a division title had they won (they didn't). "Not only would we win a playoff spot, but we'd have the division, too. That's the only way to get respect."

Butler would have plenty to say about the leap itself in the years to follow.

LeRoy Butler and the leap become inextricable

LeRoy Butler is pictured with the "Lambeau Leap" statue in his honor, unveiled in 2014 , just outside the team's pro shop and below the statues of Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi.

It's been part of Butler's identity ever since, in addition to being and an integral part of the Packers experience. His Twitter account is "leap36," combining the action and his jersey number. You can buy "Leap by LeRoy Butler" vodka. A statue outside Lambeau Field commemorates the Lambeau Leap. Fans can take pictures of their own "Lambeau Leap" either at the field itself or as part of an exhibit at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis on an annual basis. 

It's not the only thing Butler is known for, either. The dynamic safety was selected as a member of the 1990s All-Decade Team, and once fellow safety Steve Atwater was inducted in 2020, it meant every single first-team player on the 1990s team was in the Hall of Fame ... except Butler. His case coming into 2022 was strong.

"I was excited because I'm going to score my first touchdown," Butler told Greg Garber of ESPN in 2015. "All this stuff is going through my head. And as I'm about to score, you see me point right there to this guy. And I jump. And this guy just kind of grabs me.

"I know a lot of people say, 'Well, act like you've been there before,'" Butler added. "I'm a defensive guy. I may not ever get back there again. So I was going to make the most of it."

Who's taken the leap the most and how high are those walls?

Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson does a Lambeau Leap in 2011.

It took more than just Butler to transform a fun grace note in a crucial 1993 win into one of the most iconic celebrations in pro sports. 

Robert Brooks, a receiver who was on that 1993 team and played through the year 2000 with 32 career touchdown receptions, in particular made sure the Lambeau Leap became a fixture. He joins Donald Driver, Antonio Freeman and Jordy Nelson among those who've executed the most.

Not every touchdown ends in a leap, but for what it's worth, Nelson has the most home touchdown scores since the Leap first took off, with 44, followed by Davante Adams (42), Antonio Freeman (40), Ahman Green (39), Aaron Jones (34), Randall Cobb (32) and Driver (31).

Opposing players have tried it in jest, and some players have tried ... and failed. Fullback John Kuhn's ill-fated leap attempt during a playoff game in early 2014 might be one of the most famous entrants in the canon. Brett Favre famously only took the leap once, with so-so results.

Hey, it's not easy. Wall heights vary in the Lambeau Field end zone and can be as tall as 6 feet, 4 inches, though as low as 4 feet if you find the center in the north end zone.

Leaping into the stands has been outlawed in other NFL venues, but the act proved so charming and specific to Green Bay that NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue gave Lambeau Field an grandfathered exemption.

Replay would have negated that touchdown if it happened today

Aaron Rodgers celebrates his touchdown run with a Lambeau Leap in 2016.

There are, of course, the caveats of circumstance. It's pretty clear that White's right foot stepped out of bounds with his right foot before he was able to lateral the ball. Had the instant-replay system been in place in 1993, the play would have been whistled dead and negated Butler's end of the bargain. Instant replay was discontinued in the NFL in 1991 after its introduction for six years, and it didn't return until the late '90s. 

McGee even noted on the live radio broadcast that it appeared White stepped out of bounds.

Not only that, but Raiders coach Art Shell and Jordan himself contended after the game that he never had control of the ball before Butler's hit, and the pass should have been ruled incomplete. Watching it live in real time, it almost looks plausible that Jordan caught the ball and was down before the ball sprung loose.

The epilogue is perhaps just as noteworthy as the Lambeau Leap game. The Packers were unsuccessful in winning the division that year — that particular triumph would have to wait until Pittsburgh's Yancey Thigpen dropped a pass in the end zone on Christmas Eve two years later to gift the Packers a division title.

In 1993, the 30-20 loss to Detroit in the final week of the season meant the Packers would have to open the playoffs on the road ... right back in Detroit for the wild card round of the playoffs.

That game lives forever in Packers lore, as well. Favre found Sterling Sharpe with 55 seconds left for a 40-yard touchdown that granted the Packers a 28-24 victory. Green Bay lost the following week against the Cowboys, but again, the table had been set for a rising NFL superpower. 

JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.

View Comments