'Welcome to the Hall of Fame': Former Packers safety LeRoy Butler earns NFL's highest honor

Pete Dougherty
Packers News
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GREEN BAY - As LeRoy Butler was trying to rush along his son to take him to school in the morning a couple weeks ago, he heard a knock on the door so loud he thought it might be the police.

As he went to answer the knock he saw who was there and wondered what in the world Charles Woodson was doing at his house.

It wasn’t until Butler opened the door and saw a camera crew and maybe a 25-person delegation that he realized the dream of a lifetime had come true: He was going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“Roy Lee, welcome to the Hall of Fame,” said Woodson, a former Packers star who was elected to the Hall last year.

“Don’t play, don’t play,” Butler answered.

“Trust me, you’re in the Hall of Fame,” Woodson said.

And with that, Butler felt none of the cold even though he was standing on the porch of his house south of Milwaukee in his stocking feet on a January morning.

“I feel like I stepped outside my body and watched myself,” he said of the moment.

Butler was one of five modern-era candidates and eight total voted into the Hall in the 2022 class that was revealed on the NFL Honors Show on Thursday night. The others were modern-era players Tony Boselli, Sam Mills, Bryant Young and Richard Seymour, along with senior finalist Cliff Branch, coach finalist Dick Vermeil and contributor finalist Art McNally.

Butler was introduced at the Honors show by former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Brett Favre.

"He was the first to leap in Lambeau and one of the fiercest to defend it," Favre said. "An all-decade safety and an All-Pro competitor, an all-time teammate, LeRoy Butler."

Leroy Butler intercepts a Charlie Batch pass in the second quarter of the game Sunday, Sept. 19, 1999, between the Detroit lions and the Green Bay Packers at the Pontiac Silverdome. He finished his Hall of Fame career with 38 interceptions.

Butler becomes the 28th member of the Packers organization inducted into Hall, second-most in the NFL behind only the Chicago Bears’ 30.

LeRoy Butler had to wait a long time for his election into the Hall of Fame

He’ll officially be inducted into the Hall next August as part of enshrinement week in Canton, Ohio, when his Hall of Fame bust will be unveiled. He’ll also receive the coveted gold jacket that is the signature of Pro Football Hall of Fame members, as well as a Hall of Fame diamond ring.

Sometime next season Butler also will have his name added to the façade at Lambeau Field, where all the team’s Hall of Famers are honored.

“It’s truly amazing,” Butler said of the honor. “I don’t even know how to act.”

Butler’s road to the Hall of Fame was relatively long.

Hall of Famers are chosen by a committee of 49 media members who cover the league in a voting process in which modern-era players are eligible for the Hall from five years after they retire until 25 years after. If they’re not chosen by their 25th year of eligibility, they enter the Senior Committee pool, where their chances of eventual induction are slim.

The 49-member committee starts the voting process each year by cutting the list of modern-era candidates from a little more than 100 to 25 semifinalist. About a month after that, the committee reduces the list to 15 finalists, whose cases are presented and discussed in the selection meeting, when the Hall of Fame class is chosen. During that meeting, the committee first cuts the list to 10, then to five, and then each of the final five gets an up-or-down vote, with 80% yes votes required for election into the Hall.

This year that meeting was conducted Jan. 18.

Butler first became eligible for the Hall in 2007 but didn’t make the cut to 25 semi-finalists until 12 years later, in the voting for the 2019 class. From there he moved up a notch each year. In 2020 he was one of the 15 finalists, when the committee discussed his case for the first time. Last year he made the final 10, and then this year he advanced to the final five and crossed the 80% threshold to get into the Hall.

Butler’s Hall induction caps an exceptional career from 1990 through 2001, for which he was voted first-team all-decade for the 1990s. He played a major role in the Packers’ revitalization in the ‘90s and was the Packers’ third-best player of that era, behind only Favre and Reggie White, on teams that won one Super Bowl and went to another. 

Butler finished with 38 interceptions and 20.5 sacks in his career as Packers safety

His defining trait was his all-around ability as a safety who excelled defending the run, in coverage against the pass and as a blitzer. He finished his career with 38 interceptions and 20½ sacks, which makes him one of only four players with at least 35 interceptions and 20 sacks since the NFL made sacks an official statistic in 1982. The others are Hall of Famers Woodson (62 and 20) and Brian Dawkins (37 and 26), along with Ronde Barber (47 and 28), who made the final 15 of Hall voting for the first time this year.

Also, last year Pro Football Reference completed a project in which it compiled data from NFL play-by-plays and game film to track sacks from 1960 through ’81. Though it’s unofficial, that research added only one player to the 35-20 list, Larry Wilson, who was voted into the Hall in 1978.

“(Butler) is the prototypical strong safety,” said Ron Wolf, the Packers' former general manager and a member of the Hall. “He’s what everybody looks for at that position. He can cover, he can tackle, he can (blitz), he can run. Didn’t miss games. Big-time football player. When I think of Hall of Famers, I think of guys who were dominant players in their era and at their positions. That’s LeRoy Butler.”

More: LeRoy Butler and the origin of the Lambeau Leap

MoreHere are the Packers (and Wisconsin connections) in the Hall of Fame

Going into this year’s vote, Butler also was the only first-team all-decade player from the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s who was not in the Hall. Now all of them are in. He was named first-team All-Pro four times (1993, ’96, ’97 and ’98) and played in four Pro Bowls.

Butler was instrumental on the Packers' top-ranked defense during the Super Bowl season in 1996

His best season was ’96, the year the Packers won their first Super Bowl since Super Bowl II and finished with the top-ranked defense in the league. His 6½ sacks that year were the second-most ever for a defensive back at the time and still ties him for sixth-most by a defensive back in league history going back to 1960, according to Pro Football Reference. He also had five interceptions that season, including one returned for a touchdown. His signature play was his one-handed sack of Drew Bledsoe on a third down in the Super Bowl that snuffed out a New England Patriots possession.

LeRoy Butler hits Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe during an October 1997 game.

Butler also was a strong locker-room presence who was as much a leader of those 1990s Packers teams as anyone.

“LeRoy was the whole package, you were not limited by anything,” former Packers coach Mike Holmgren said. “If you had to be cover safety, he was a cover safety. If you needed to blitz, he could blitz. He could cover ground – if all of a sudden they motioned (a receiver), as a free safety he was fine. He tackled well, and he was smart, and he was a real team leader.”

Said Favre: “He was kind of the X-factor back there. I think of LeRoy somewhere at the line of scrimmage creating a turnover or a sack. He didn’t just play the middle of the field, he was all over the place. I remember playing San Francisco and him lining up on the line, and they knew he was coming and they couldn’t stop him. He just had a knack for creating turmoil.”

Now, 21 years after he retired from creating turmoil, Butler is one of 354 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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