GREEN BAY, Wis. (BVM) — LeRoy Butler, the inventor of the Lambeau Leap, a former all-pro safety, someone who redefined the position, the first member of the 20-20 club (20 sacks and 20 interceptions) and a member of the All-90s team.
The only member of that group of players to not be in the NFL Hall of Fame. The former Green Bay Packer has been waiting almost two decades to join his peers who, with lesser stats than his own, have been voted in before him.
As a child, Butler had to overcome physical disabilities that required him needing leg braces and a wheelchair. Overcoming those physical limitations was something Butler did with class.
“I had to have blinders on,” Butler said. “My mother told me to ignore the people that were being negative.”
Butler eventually did overcome those disabilities and went to play football at Florida State University. After a successful career as a Seminole, Butler was drafted by the Green Bay Packers, with the 23rd pick in the second round of the 1990 NFL draft.
Originally, Butler was drafted as cornerback, however, in 1992 he was moved to safety to accommodate the drafting of another cornerback. At first Butler was resistant to the idea but after meeting with then-coach Mike Holmgren and defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes. They explained to him that his skill set was better suited to that of safety and they wanted to utilize him in a different way to take advantage of those skills. It resulted in his first all-pro season in 1993. It was also the first in a series of moves that would position LeRoy Butler as a hall of fame calibre player.
In 1994, the arrival of Fritz Shurmur heralded more growth for Butler. Shurmur utilized him more at the line of scrimmage in run support and to rush the quarterback. This evolution of the safety position resulted in Butler accumulating interceptions and sacks.
“Before me, safeties either played in coverage or near the line of scrimmage”, Butler said. “They got sacks or interceptions, not both.”
Butler was a player to be reckoned with. He accumulated sacks and interceptions, reinventing the safety position – eventually becoming the first member of the NFL’s 20-20 club (20 sacks and 20 interceptions).
To this day, there are few safeties that can play both in coverage and near the line of scrimmage. The few safeties that did mimic Butler’s play were few and far between. In fact, even in today’s NFL, there are very few safeties that can play both to the level Butler did.
Butler garnered three more all-pro nods in 1996, 1997, and 1998. Additionally, Butler was named to the NFL’s Pro Bowl in each of the same seasons he was an all-pro. Butler and the Green Bay Packers also won Super Bowl XXXI, the first championship in Green Bay since Super Bowl I. Butler even sacked Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI, showing his versatility on a national stage.
Butler was also named to the NFL’s All-90s Decade Team, composed of the very best players at their position from the 1990s. Since then, every one of them has been elected to the Hall of Fame – with Butler being the lone exception.
“I’m the only guy from the 1st team All-90s team that is not in the Hall of Fame,” Butler said. It’s embarrassing to be the only guy not in the Hall.”
Butler retired after the 2001 season due to a shoulder injury that failed to heal properly.
“I was told that I was a lock for the Hall of Fame when I was the first 20-20 guy, let alone to finish with 38 and 20,” Butler said.
Yet, for unknown reasons, Butler has failed to garner the needed votes to get him into the NFL’s Hall of Fame. While other players to play the safety position like Troy Polamalu, John Lynch, and Steve Atwater have been elected to the NFL Hall of Fame. Butler has better stats and made more of an impact at the position than all of them.
When looking at the stats, Butler leads every player in the following categories: interceptions, fumble recoveries, and sacks. Butler is one forced fumble away from being tied with, and has more tackles than first ballot Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu.
LeRoy Butler was versatile, redefined the position for those to come after him, leads or is near the top in every major statistical category, yet has failed to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
The question now becomes “Why?” What is holding LeRoy Butler back from being elected to the Hall of Fame? Is it because he played with Brett Favre and Reggie White? Was he overshadowed by those Hall of Famers and thus not garnering enough consideration?
“I think it’s about Brand versus Generic,” Butler said. “The other guys represent a ‘Brand’. I don’t have a ‘Brand’ I’m ‘Generic’.”
Butler is indeed worthy of the Hall of Fame, not only based on his stats, but also because of the manner in which he redefined the safety position.
LeRoy Butler should have been in the Hall of Fame years ago. He should have ‘Leapt’ into the Hall of Fame just as he leapt into the stands and the hearts of all Packers that cold day in 1993.