Packers great LeRoy Butler enters 'football heaven,' thanks fans at Pro Football Hall of Fame induction
Former Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler waited a long time for the knock on his door to receive his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Drafted in 1990 in the second round of the NFL draft, Butler said Saturday during his induction speech in Canton, Ohio, that there are no more doors that need opening.
Butler was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and lives in Milwaukee, but now will forever have a home alongside other legends of professional football.
“When you play for the Green Bay Packers, a lot of doors open up,” Butler said during his speech. “When you win a Super Bowl, all doors open up. But when you make the Hall of Fame, football heaven opens up.”
Butler became the 28th member of the Packers organization inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Only the Chicago Bears have more, with 30.
Having to wait close to two decades upon his retirement wasn’t bad either because of the ultimate payoff.
Butler first became eligible for the Hall in 2007 but didn’t make the cut to 25 semifinalists until 2019. He was among the 15 finalists in 2020 and the final 10 last year before reaching the 80% threshold to enter the Hall this year.
“Sixteen years is a long time, but it’s worth the wait,” Butler said.
His induction was based on his stellar accolades achieved on the field, which are numerous.
He had the ability to do everything a safety is asked to do. Butler intercepted 38 passes while adding 20½ sacks, one of only four players with at least 35 interceptions and 20 sacks dating back to when the NFL made sacks an official statistic in 1982.
Butler is the final first-team all-decade player from the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s to enter the Hall. He was named first-team All-Pro four times (1993, ’96, ’97 and ’98) and played in four Pro Bowls.
Beyond all that though, it is Butler the man, not the football player, according to Butler’s wife, Genesis Butler, who spoke on a prerecorded segment before Butler’s speech.
“My husband is the perfect embodiment for the Hall of Fame because of his loyalty, his connection with all fans and also his leadership,” Genesis Butler said.
It’s just how he was raised.
“My mom, growing up in poverty, she made us think rich every day because it’s not about what you have on or what you have, it’s how you act,” Butler said.
Recalling her husband’s career, which lasted 12 seasons before his retirement in 2002, she said there are two moments that stood out: his sack of New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and his decision to become the first player to do the Lambeau Leap in 1993.
Butler forced a fumble against the Los Angeles Raiders, which was picked up by fellow Hall of Famer Reggie White and tossed back to the safety along the sideline, allowing Butler to race into the south end zone of Lambeau and into the waiting arms of celebrating fans.
“When you see other guys jumping into the stands, my husband started that,” Genesis Butler said.
Former teammate Gilbert Brown, a defensive tackle with the Packers who spent 10 seasons with the team across two stints, recalled what was going through his mind when Butler did the first Lambeau Leap.
“I will never forget that game as long as I live,” Brown said during a prerecorded segment. “I saw LeRoy running towards the end zone so I thought he was going to score. He kept running past that white line and I’m like, what's he about to do, and he jumped in the stands, so I started running to help pull him off. But then I saw the fans, they got to see and touch something they never experienced in their life, and every time someone jumps in the stands, my homeboy started it.”
Butler thanked numerous people during his six-minute speech Saturday including his family, former coaches and teachers as well as his teammates. It was the fans though to whom he gave a lot of credit for allowing him to accomplish this honor, becoming one of just 362 members of the Hall.
“My life changed with the Packers,” Butler said. “I’m one of the few guys up here, maybe the only one up here, that say I don’t go to say hello to fans at Pick n’ Save, I say hello to owners. I want to thank the fans, without you, there is no LeRoy Butler.”
Brown doesn’t feel anyone should wear No. 36, which adorned Butler’s jersey during his time in Green Bay. That number currently belongs to Packers’ safety Vernon Scott.
“No one should ever wear that 36 ever again,” Brown said. “That number should be put up there in a glass and be broken only in emergencies.”
Butler was one of eight total members of the 2022 class. The others were players Tony Boselli, Sam Mills, Bryant Young, Richard Seymour and Cliff Branch, coach Dick Vermeil and contributor Art McNally.
During his speech Butler recalled a former coach who wanted Butler to not look so jovial while he played and the interaction they once had.
“He’s the one who said stop smiling so much and be tough, but I can’t, coach,” Butler said.
As of Saturday, Butler’s smile will forever be immortalized on his bust in football heaven.