LeRoy Butler is finally headed to Canton.
In his 16th year of modern-era eligibility, the Packers' four-time All-Pro safety has been elected for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2022.
A three-time finalist, Butler played in 181 regular-season games over 12 seasons in Green Bay. He was the first player in NFL history to record 20 interceptions and 20 sacks in a career.
Butler is one of only four defensive backs in league annals with at least 35 picks and 20 sacks. Hall of Famers Brian Dawkins and Charles Woodson, and five-time semifinalist Ronde Barber, are the other three.
An emotional Butler reflected on his journey after the Hall of Fame class announcement at Thursday's NFL Honors ceremony in Los Angeles. One of five siblings, Butler grew up as a special-needs child in a lower income part of Jacksonville. He struggled to read for a long time and didn't walk until he was five.
When asked about what leadership means to him, Butler used his late mother Eunice as his shining light.
"It was my mom," said Butler, whose mother passed away in November 2016. "I was a special needs student. Special education, couldn't read. I told her at 8 years old I want to play in the NFL to get her out of the projects.
"Leadership is my mom raising five kids and one of them needs a little help. I say football (was) the best for me because I need 10 other guys to help me reach my goal. She taught me the next level."
Butler overcame the early adversity to play at Florida State and was drafted in the second round by the Packers in 1990. He moved from cornerback to safety during his third NFL season and eventually became the centerpiece of Fritz Shurmur's defense that led the NFL in total yards (259.8 yards per game) and scoring (13.0 points per game) during the Packers' Super Bowl XXXI season.
Hired as defensive coordinator by Mike Holmgren in 1994, Shurmur proved to be the perfect match with Butler. He moved Butler around regularly within his defense, which kept the opposing offense off-balance since it was unclear whether Butler was playing near the line of scrimmage or roaming centerfield.
"LeRoy was a great player and team leader who I always knew I could count on in any situation," Holmgren said.
Butler could do it all, including playing the "star" slot cornerback position that's become standard in today's NFL nickel sub-packages with five defensive backs. His 38 career interceptions are tied for fourth most in Packers history, while his 36 INTs in the 1990s ranked sixth in the NFL in that decade. His 20½ sacks were second behind only Carnell Lake (24) for DBs in the 1990s.
To this day, Butler remains the only player in NFL history with at least three sacks and three interceptions in three straight seasons. Butler was named first-team All-Pro during each of his final three seasons playing for Shurmur, who died at 67 in August 1999 after a battle with esophageal and liver cancer.
"He's a damn good football player and I'm glad he's on our side," said Shurmur of Butler in the Wisconsin Capital Times on Oct. 26, 1998.
Known for inventing the "Lambeau Leap" after scoring a 25-yard fumble return touchdown against the Raiders on Dec. 26, 1993, Butler was voted to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team with fellow safety Steve Atwater.
Butler remembers telling his mom, "That means I might be in the Hall of Fame one day." Eunice encouraged her son but also cautioned Butler to remain patient and recognize how few individuals receive that prestigious honor.
"Me and my mom had a discussion and she was saying at the time, how many players won't ever get this opportunity," Butler said. "When I was a semifinalist, she said, 'OK, this is great,' but she always taught me to be a patient person."
Eunice's plea for patience proved prophetic, as Butler turned out to be the final offensive or defensive player from the 1990s All-Decade Team to be voted to Canton.
Pro Football Hall of Fame voters have steadily worked to reduce the logjam of safeties waiting for enshrinement into Canton, beginning with the induction of Seattle's Kenny Easley in 2017 as a senior nominee.
Since then, Dawkins (2018), Ed Reed (2019), Butler's fellow 1990s All-Decade member Atwater (2020) and 2000s All-Decade selectee Troy Polamalu (2020) have been enshrined. San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch, who never appeared on an All-Decade team, also was voted in last year. Former Packers cornerback/safety Charles Woodson also was enshrined this past summer in his first year of eligibility.
Butler remained graceful throughout his 16-year wait. During his news conference on Thursday evening, Butler praised everyone from the Hall of Fame voters to late All-Pro linebacker Sam Mills, who was voted in during his final year of modern-era eligibility. He also offered words of encouragement the other 10 finalists who were not selected this year, including former Miami linebacker Zach Thomas.
"There's under 400 guys in the Hall of Fame and I think only 170 still living. So, I'm telling to all the guys, it's worth waiting on," Butler said. "Trust me, it's going to feel amazing when you get in this year, two years from now, three years from now. I just tell the guys just be patient and one day it will pay off. God's got a plan for everybody, everything will be OK."
Butler is the fourth member of Green Bay's Super Bowl XXXI championship team to be voted into Canton, alongside Reggie White (2006), former general manager Ron Wolf (2015) and Brett Favre (2016). The Packers' 28 Hall of Famers rank second among all NFL franchises, behind only the 30 claimed by the Chicago Bears.
"It is wonderful that the premier safety of the '90s is getting his just reward by entering pro football's sacred chamber, the Hall of Fame," Wolf said. "It is well earned due to his passion for the game and his dedication to the Green Bay Packers along with his superb play."
In addition to thanking his former teachers and coaches, Butler took time to credit Favre and White for helping pave the way to his own enshrinement in Canton. In closing, Butler also paid tribute to the Packers fans with whom he developed such a deep connection during his 12 seasons in Green Bay.
"I love the fans," Butler said. "They're the DNA of me and of the state of Wisconsin."
Former Packers S LeRoy Butler has been named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022. Take a look back at photos of Butler during his 12 seasons with the Green Bay Packers.