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LeRoy Butler hopes call to 'Hall' is just a matter of time

Packers safety enjoyed his experience as a first-time finalist

Packers Hall of Famer LeRoy Butler
Packers Hall of Famer LeRoy Butler

GREEN BAY – LeRoy Butler was ready for either outcome.

Spending the morning with his wife, Genesis, former teammate Antonio Freeman, and several others last Saturday, the Packers' four-time All-Pro safety patiently waited for a knock on the door of his hotel room to let Butler know he'd be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Or the infamous phone call to notify Butler he was not among the five who would leave Miami with a gold jacket.

It should've been a stressful day but Butler felt weightless. There was a steady stream of laughter, while "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" was on inside the room. Finally around 2 p.m. ET, Butler turned the channel to NFL Network.

A finalist for the first time in his 14 years of eligibility, Butler was mentally prepared for whatever happened next. Regardless of the result, the speech he had for Hall of Fame President David Baker was going to be the same.

So when the phone rang and Butler realized his fate, the Packers legend remained his same gregarious self in what can be a disappointing and emotional moment for most candidates.

"I wanted to make it easy on Mr. Baker because he has a tough job," Butler said. "He calls you and says, 'Well, you know maybe next year.' I said, 'Listen, you go call the other players, go knock on doors. I'm good.'"

It's not that Butler doesn't want to be in the Hall of Fame. It's all he's ever wanted. Butler still remembers the day he called to tell his mother, Eunice, he'd been named first-team 1990s All-Decade, as chosen by voters of the Pro Football Hall of Fame

The honor was warranted. Butler could do it all at the safety position, which made him the perfect centerpiece of coordinator Fritz Shurmur's defenses in Green Bay. Along with inventing the "Lambeau Leap," Butler was the first player in NFL history to record 20 interceptions and 20 sacks in a career.

To this day, Butler remains one of only four defensive backs in league annals with at least 35 picks and 20 sacks. Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins, future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson and semifinalist Ronde Barber are the other three.

So on the day he was told he'd made All-Decade, Butler remembers telling his mom, "That means I might be in the Hall of Fame one day." Eunice, who passed away in 2016, encouraged her son but also offered a small word of caution.

"That would be great," his mom told him. "But that's something you have to be really patient for because everybody thinks they're a Hall of Famer."

That moment has stayed with Butler, who is now the only offensive or defensive player on the '90s All-Decade Team not in the Hall of Fame after former Denver safety Steve Atwater was one of the five finalists to be chosen last Saturday.

It's not that Butler feels like he's received the short end of the stick in the voting process. It's more like the exact opposite. An eternal optimist, Butler maintains a glass-half-full mentality as his time is drawing near for a call to Canton.

Meanwhile, Butler was thrilled for both Atwater (elected in his 16th year of eligibility) and former Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu, who was voted in on the first ballot. All weekend, Butler enjoyed his interactions with Atwater, Polamalu and fellow finalist John Lynch during various Hall of Fame events. He and Atwater hugged every time they came into contact with each other in Miami.

Butler believes all four are deserving. It's nobody's fault there was a backlog at safety for so many years, which began to unclog three years ago when four-time All-Pro Kenny Easley was selected as a senior nominee to the Hall of Fame.

"I was so happy for Steve Atwater," Butler said. "He was so nice to me all week. John Lynch, Troy, we all know we're going to get in one day. We're not trying to pull each other down to get in there. Steve, the guy has been a finalist forever. As a matter of fact, Steve getting in now makes me the only All-Decade member of our decade who's not in from the first team. That's a good thing."

Butler felt his biggest victory came last month when he was named a finalist for the first time. That meant his case would be heard in the room where the voting happens. From what Butler was told from Baker and other Hall of Fame officials, more than 85 percent of finalists eventually are enshrined in Canton.

Overall, Butler and his wife had a great time in Miami. He got to meet Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach for the first time, had an emotional embrace with former Minnesota receiver and friend Cris Carter, and connected with former Rams receiver Isaac Bruce, who then was voted into the Hall of Fame.

The other moment Butler won't soon forget is the text message he received from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers beforehand, wishing him luck and telling him he belongs.

"The message I got from Aaron Rodgers made me feel so much better," Butler said. "That really meant a lot. It was just a very positive message about how he hopes I get in. That was nice."

Butler appreciates all the support he received from Packers fans, both during the build-up to the Hall of Fame vote and in the immediate aftermath. He hopes to again be a finalist next year prior to Super Bowl LV in Tampa, which is less than two hours from where Butler grew up in Jacksonville.

"I'm looking forward to that. I'm jacked up," Butler said. "My wife is looking forward to it. She loves Florida. She was like, 'Oh man, it was supposed to be in LA but I heard it's in Tampa. Whew, I hope we're a finalist next year.' If we have to wait another year, that's fine. God is good."