Safety LeRoy Butler is enjoying his 11th season with the Packers
You can hear the excitement increase in his voice and see that contagious smile grow wider as Packers safety LeRoy Butler recalls his fondest moment in a Green Bay uniform.
"It was when we played at Lambeau Field against Carolina in 1996," began Butler. "That was an awesome feeling."
The game Butler is reminiscing about is the Packers' 30-13 defeat of the Panthers in the NFC Championship game in which Butler had a key fumble recovery that put an end to Carolina's last serious effort to get back into the game. The victory returned the Packers to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1967 and marked the Packers' rise again to their glory days.
"When I first got here we were 4-12 and didn't think the Super Bowl was possible," said Butler. "I remember saying back in 1994, 'I'm never going to win a championship.' I was pouting like a little kid. But we came together. We had some good drafts, good free agents, very good coaching and it worked. We started gelling in '95 and in '96 we put it together.
"When we won that game in Lambeau Field, I remember our fans giving us a standing ovation. I felt better than when we won it. Just the idea to go was awesome. You had two weeks to just sit back, relax and think about it. It's a memory I'll never forget."
LeRoy Butler has a plethora of memories as a Packer. His eleven seasons wearing green and gold distinguish him as the Packers' longest serving veteran. Butler is the only player on this year's squad to have played under the last four head coaches -- Lindy Infante, Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes and Mike Sherman.
His 163 career games for the Packers places him one game ahead of Larry McCarren and Ron Hallstrom for seventh on the team's all-time list. If Butler competes in only five more games this season, he will rise to fourth on the list behind only Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke and Forrest Gregg. Barring any injury, that mark should certainly be reached considering that Butler also is second on the team in durability -- behind Brett Favre -- starting 98 consecutive regular-season games, dating back to the sixth game in 1994.
With the rise of the free agency and blockbuster trades, Butler is very proud of his tenure in Green Bay.
"I take a lot of pride in that," said Butler. "I had a chance to go to another team, but I'd never think about playing anywhere else but Green Bay. I don't know what the future holds, but Green Bay has been so good to me, the fans and the organization. When you look at all my football cards, I take pride in all of them being green and gold."
Entering the 2000 season, Butler was looking for the team and himself to bounce back from a relatively disappointing 1999 campaign. Butler started all 16 games at strong safety, but saw his numbers slightly decrease while playing through a painful shoulder ailment.
This season, under the new coaching schemes of Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell, Butler has moved back to free safety, allowing him to regain some of the aggressive assignments that previously soared him to his Pro Bowl status.
"This year I'm having a lot more fun," began Butler. "Obviously we don't have the record to reflect it, but last year I wasn't a big part of the defense. This year I am. We have packages that I always wanted to be in. I'm having a lot of fun being a leader back there. I moved back to free safety so I get the chance to line up the defense and be more of a communicator."
Being the leader of the defense is a role that Butler has gladly accepted over time. His actions on the field, combined with his vocal contributions, have kept the younger guys on defense looking to Butler as an example.
"I reach all of my guys," started Butler. "You try to reach them by working hard in practice and doing things that normal 32-year-olds don't do...practicing every day, playing every day, playing hurt and just letting them know that they're a part of our team. I know I'm under a microscope and I'm just trying to make sure I do the right thing."
Although the Packers have a 3-4 overall record this season, the defense -- which was a question mark all preseason -- has played very well under the new system.
"I think the defense has played very good in spots," said Butler. "We have to get more turnovers, but I'm very happy with our defense. We want to put our offense in position to make plays because we feel like no one can really stop our offense."
Despite the ample amount of injuries the Packers have encountered early on in the season, the younger members of the defense have stepped in and held their own, which should generate a lot of optimism once the Packers return all their components.
"It's tough right now because we can't do some of our aggressive packages," said Butler. "It's just so tough. When we get Mike (McKenzie) and Antuan (Edwards) back, then we can get into our aggressive packages. But now we don't have enough guys. We fly around probably more than any other team. We throw our bodies around and sometimes that results in injuries. But that shows the effort we have.
"I think we'll turn it around. All those teams playing so great right now will begin to slide and we'll pick it up. It's going to be fun when we turn it around. We just have to make sure with our different personnel that we get our chemistry together and we'll be okay."
As the cornerstone of the Packers defense, Butler's experience should help the team get through this rough period, back on the winning track and in the process create more memories to add to his collection.
If there has been one constant the past 11 Packers seasons it has been LeRoy Butler, who has been an integral part of the Green Bay defense. Butler hopes to continue that trend, at least for a few more seasons.
"I would really like to play three more seasons -- this year and two more," said Butler. "That's my goal. With free agency, you don't really get to play as long as you want, you play as long as the team wants you. So you have to continue to work hard and be prepared. But three more years, that's my goal."