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LeRoy Butler: Forever Part of Lambeau Field

It took a village for Packers safety to reach football immortality

Pro Football Hall of Famer LeRoy Butler
Pro Football Hall of Famer LeRoy Butler

GREEN BAY – The stadium where LeRoy Butler made his first Lambeau Leap will now forever bear the Pro Football Hall of Famer's name.

A yearlong celebration of the former Packers safety continues during halftime of tonight's matchup between Green Bay and the Tennessee Titans. As part of the ceremony, Butler's name will be added to the Lambeau Field façade in honor of his Hall of Fame induction earlier this year. The four-time All-Pro also will be presented with his Hall of Fame Ring of Excellence.

Butler's journey from Jacksonville to Canton, Ohio, has been a 54-year adventure. There have been triumphs, tribulations, and everything in between. But most of all, there was happiness and unapologetic positivity, even during Butler's 16-year wait for enshrinement.

The fact that Butler was inducted into the Hall of Fame with one team, for whom he played all 12 of his NFL seasons, makes his career achievement all the more meaningful.

"To know that my name will go up there with all those guys and it'll say from 1990-2001, with one team, one team, that means a lot," Butler said. "Because not many guys have done that. Only a few, in all 32 teams, Hall of Famers (who) stay with one franchise."

Raised by a single mother, Butler overcame poverty, learning disabilities and a bone condition that made it difficult for him to walk as a child to revolutionize the safety position, becoming the first defensive back in NFL history to record at least 35 career interceptions and 20 sacks.

Despite an accomplished career at Florida State, it was in Green Bay Butler reached his full potential after a switch from cornerback to safety. In 1993, Butler earned his first All-Pro team after a six-interception season.

But even more importantly, that year is when the 6-foot, 197-pound safety made the inaugural Lambeau Leap against the Los Angeles Raiders in one of the coldest games in Lambeau Field history on Dec. 26, 1993.

After Butler forced a fumble of Raiders running back Randy Jordan, Reggie White corralled the loose ball and lateraled it to Butler while getting tackled out of bounds. Butler returned it 25 yards for a touchdown, leapt into the stands and a legend officially was born.

"He's kind of defined by that Lambeau Leap," said Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson, who broke the news to Butler earlier this year that he was going to be enshrined. "When you think of the Green Bay Packers you think of the Lambeau Leap. And then immediately you think of LeRoy Butler. Those two things are synonymous."

Three more All-Pros and a Super Bowl ring would follow. To this day, Butler's third-down sack of New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe in the second quarter of the Packers' 35-21 victory over the Patriots is one of Super Bowl XXXI's most iconic moments.

For nearly a decade, Gilbert Brown stood in awe of Butler's greatness. Claimed off waivers from Minnesota, the Packers Hall of Fame defensive tackle is thankful his locker was positioned between linebacker George Koonce and Butler. From the beginning, Brown stuck to the safety "like a sponge."

Butler was prepared and had the respect of defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur and the coaching staff if adjustments needed to be made.

"We had LeRoy Butler back there who is really the quarterback of our defense," Brown said. "He put in the time, the work, the film. If he says go left, we're going left; if he says right, we're going right. We trusted in each other."

Brown wasn't the only Packers teammate who gravitated towards Butler. Receiver Antonio Freeman fondly recalls how the All-Pro safety bought him his first designer suit. Why? Because Butler wanted Freeman to look good in front of his parents when he went home.

On the field, however, Butler was all business. When he retired in 2001, Butler walked away with 38 interceptions and 20½ career sacks. He intercepted a pass in all but one season of his 181-game career.

And Butler brought the rest of the locker room along for the ride.

"He would seemingly get the best out of guys just by voicing his opinion," Freeman said. "He was vocal. He yelled, 'Vroom, vroom,' right before we went out onto Lambeau Field in the tunnel and that was one of those things like start your engines, let's go. So that was one of those things, the last thing we heard before taking field was LeRoy."

Butler's impact is still felt today around the state. Earlier this summer, Head Coach Matt LaFleur brought Butler in to address the football team. Butler's message centered on the importance of living in the moment and having your teammates' backs at all times.

Afterwards, quarterback Aaron Rodgers called it "one of the best speeches" he's heard during his time as Packers starting quarterback. On the eve of Thursday's celebration of Butler, both LaFleur and Rodgers were all smiles when recalling the safety's visit.

"He's a Packers staple," Rodgers said. "I love the fact that we keep so many of our own tight in the family and he's around. He came and gave us a great speech during training camp. Really appreciated his words. Excited for him. That's got to be a great honor, not just to go in but to be honored at the stadium you played at and obviously he made the Lambeau Leap famous."

Added LaFleur: "It's so deserving. When he talked to the squad, (he showed) just how passionate he is about the Green Bay Packers and the game of football and supporting these guys. What a special honor. It's something they can never take away from you. Just really happy for him."

And now, Butler takes his rightful place in the stadium he made his second home, Lambeau Field. But when Butler looks up tonight at the southeast façade of the stadium, he won't see his name up there with the other 27 Packers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He'll see Brown, Freeman and all his teammates. He'll see Mike Holmgren, Shurmur and his coaches. He'll reflect on what he learned from Bobby Bowden, Corky Rogers and all his teachers. He'll see his mom, his wife Genesis, his children, his siblings, and the family who made it all possible.

But most of all, he'll see you…the Packers fans.

"It's truly amazing to play for one franchise and put your name up in the stands," Butler said. "But I would trade my name from going up there and put my teammates' and the fans' names up there. I would trade that because they're the owners. If it wasn't for those fans, there is no LeRoy Butler.

"When you see my name, that's what I want you to think about – he loved the fanbase and he loved his teammates. That's what he stood for."

The wait was as long as it was uncertain. But even after the doors to Canton opened to Steve Atwater (2020) and John Lynch (2021) before him, Butler never lost his smile or grace. He credits his late mother, Eunice, for teaching him to have patience.

Now a member of the football's most exclusive fraternity, after tonight, Butler can look up at the Lambeau Field façade for as long as he walks this earth and know that Eunice Butler's baby accomplished his dreams.

He has the place in history to prove it.

"He's not just LeRoy Butler now. He's LeRoy Butler, Class of 2022, Hall of Fame," Woodson said. "That really doesn't need any more explanation."

–Taylor Rogers contributed

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