Flamboyant LeRoy Butler, a consummate team player who wore Green Bay's green and gold for more games than any other defensive back in the team's long and lustrous history, will announce his retirement from professional football in a press conference Thursday, formally ending one of the most memorable and productive careers in club annals.
The colorful Floridian, who donned a Green Bay uniform for 181 contests over his 12-year career, leaves the game as one of the team's all-time elite. Only five players in the club's 83-year history have sported Packers colors longer than the ebullient Butler - Bart Starr (16 seasons), Ray Nitschke (15), Forrest Gregg (14) and Charles "Buckets" Goldenberg and Dave Hanner (13).
And few have been more productive than the Jacksonville native, who turns 34 on Friday. Bidding to become the first player in NFL history to record 40 career interceptions and 20 career sacks, Butler exercised his highly developed penchant for the big play by forging 38 interceptions - fourth-most in the team's history and only one short of third-ranking Herb Adderley (39), a long-time member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame - while amassing the "requisite" 20 quarterback sacks.
From the practical perspective, Butler's distinguished 12-year tenure in the Green Bay secondary came to an untimely end on November 18, 2001, when he suffered a broken shoulder blade (scapula) in a game against the Atlanta Falcons, an injury that sidelined him for the last six weeks of the season and essentially closed out his illustrious playing career.
It was an ironic twist of fate for the perennially durable Florida State alumnus, who had started all 16 games in seven of his eight previous seasons and was playing in his 116th consecutive game at the time he was injured, then the second-longest active streak on the team behind only Brett Favre's (now) 159-game skein.
Throughout the offseason, the ever-positive Butler had continued to nurture hopes of a full recovery from the shoulder problem, returning for a 13th season and - by playing in all 16 games - surpassing Starr's club record for most career games played (196). But it was not to be.
Long since assured of a prominent place in the Packers' storied history, beginning with certain induction in the Packer Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible, Butler also figures to be a substantial candidate for enshrinement in the Po Football Hall of Fame, based on him having been named to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee following the 2000 season.
Perennially ranked among the premier safeties in the game over the past decade, Butler's eminence was documented by four career Pro Bowl appearances, including starting assignments in three successive years (1996-98). His overall excellence at the position was underscored in '98 when his third consecutive hallmark season also earned him selection to the Associated Press All-Pro team for the fourth year in a row and the fifth time overall (he was named for the first time in 1993).
Sacks and interceptions were only the physical manifestations of Butler's multiple contributions. A vocal and aggressive leader, as well as the ultimate team player, he played a major behind-the-scenes role in the locker room each week, helping to get his teammates mentally primed for the game at hand - a role he subsequently underscored with his hardnosed, all-out approach on the playing field.
Butler also went above and beyond the call in his commitment to the team, twice in recent years voluntarily agreeing to major reductions in salary to help the team address salary cap concerns.
Great contributions all, but the one for which he may be best remembered is originating the now-familiar "Lambeau Leap," a maneuver Butler first essayed on a frigid late-December afternoon in the Packers' second-last game of the 1993 season against the then-Los Angeles Raiders.
On that occasion, Butler forced a fumble by Raiders running back Randy Jordan on the Los Angeles 40-yard line. The loose ball was scooped up by teammate Reggie White, who lumbered 10 yards and lateraled to Butler, who raced 25 yards down the east sideline to the end zone, thus scoring the first touchdown of his pro career. Caught up in the emotion of the moment, LeRoy spontaneously lofted himself into the south end zone stands, thereby launching the first "Lambeau Leap" and what has become a colorful and entrenched Packers tradition.
A cornerback in his first two NFL seasons before being transferred to safety, Butler also has other talents, having entertained Packer loyalist by executing impromptu dance "routines" after making big plays, some of which have found their way into the team's highlight videos.
His fancy footwork provided a graphic illustration of how far Butler had come from an impoverished childhood in the Blodgett Homes Project of Jacksonville, which once found him wheelchair-bound. There was a time when dancing would have been impossible for him - because the bones in his feet were extremely weak, creating a misalignment which permitted him to walk only short distances and prevented him from running. For much of his childhood, his feet were in braces or casts, and there were periods when he was bound to a wheelchair. By the time he reached seventh grade, however, his feet had healed and he was on his way to Florida State and the NFL.
In addition to retiring with the club record for games-played by a defensive back the voluble ex-Seminole owns two other significant distinctions. He is the only player to have played for each of the Packers' last four head coaches - Lindy Infante, Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes and Mike Sherman.
And, openly committed to being a "lifetime" Packer, Butler also was one of only seven NFL players to have played with the same team from 1990-2001 (Tim Brown and Steve Wisniewski, L.A. /Oakland Raiders; Darrell Green, Washington; Bruce Matthews, Houston/Tennessee; Junior Seau, San Diego; and Emmitt Smith, Dallas, were the others).
The Packers' second-round draft selection in 1990, the 48th player chosen, Butler had been a
starter ever since his second NFL season in 1991. Along the way, he has led or tied for the team lead in interceptions in five different seasons (1990-91, 1993, 1995), a feat surpassed in Green Bay history only by Bobby Dillon's seven times (1952-58) and equaled by Willie Wood's five years (1961-63, 1965, 1970).
A three-year starter as a collegian at Florida State (1987-89), he was a first-team All-America selection of AP, UPI and Walter Camp in his final collegiate season.
LeRoy, and his wife, Rhodesia, a former Florida State majorette, are the parents of three daughters, L'Oreal (born 10/8/93), Gabrielle (born 11/29/94) and Danielle (born 2/15/00). He also has a fourth daughter, Sharon (born 12/30/85).
1990 - Selected by Green Bay Packers in second round (48th overall) of '90 draft, April 22...Signed first contract, July 26.
1997 - Signed contract extension, Nov. 25.
2001 - Placed on injured reserve (broken shoulder blade), Nov. 19.
2002 - Announced retirement, July 18.