- Inducted: 2007
- Safety: 1990-2001
- Height: 6-0; Weight: 209
- College: Florida State, 1987-89
- Inducted Pro Football Hall of Fame: 2022
- NFL All-Decade Team: 1990s
- Associated Press All-Pro Team (chosen since 1940): 1993, '96, '97, '98
- Pro Bowl Selection (played since 1950): 1993, '96, '97, '98
When LeRoy Butler retired after the 2001 season, he was the first safety in NFL history to have officially recorded more than 20 career interceptions and 20 sacks. But as impressive as his final numbers might be – 38 interceptions, 20½ sacks – what was far more meaningful was Butler's place in history as a defensive trailblazer.
There was an underlying reason why he officially became the first "20-20" safety in the history of the game: He redefined his position. His lasting stamp on the NFL was his cutting-edge contributions that helped usher in a new era of defensive schemes.
"LeRoy Butler is the most versatile safety playing in the National Football League," defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur, then in his 24th season as an NFL assistant coach and author of four books on the technical aspects of football, said after the Packers' back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in the 1990s. "He not only has coverage skills that are mostly identified in cornerbacks, but also has the ability to play up on the line of scrimmage – much like a linebacker – or blitz like a linebacker."
Opponents were similarly complimentary. "It's instinctual stuff, stuff you can't teach," Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young said of Butler upon his induction into Canton. "When they say quarterback of the defense, they mean he calls plays and gets them in the right defense. But that's half of the quarterbacking. The other half is a lot of art. LeRoy was an artist. He was very unpredictable because he wouldn't read you, he would sense something and take off and get in the middle of all our plans. He was a great talent, all the stuff you already know, but I'd add he was a defensive artist. He didn't just paint by numbers, he painted outside the line."
Selected in the second round in 1990 when Tom Braatz was executive vice president of football operations and calling the shots in the Packers' draft room, Butler was listed as a cornerback as a rookie and played almost exclusively in nickel and dime defenses, although he intercepted three passes sharing the lead on a bad 6-10 team that finished 22nd overall in what was then a 28-team league in total yards allowed. A year later, Butler started 16 games at right cornerback.
In 1992, first-year defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes moved Butler to safety, where he found his home. In 1993, Butler enjoyed a breakout season, intercepting a team-high six passes, making the Pro Bowl and earning Associated Press All-Pro honors for the first time.
In 1994, Shurmur replaced Rhodes and Butler's play slipped partly due to a bout with pneumonia and a nagging shin injury. Butler performed better the next year, although his play fell off down the stretch and general manager Ron Wolf criticized him for his lack of conditioning following the season.
Up to that point, Butler had three career sacks, one each in 1993, '94 and '95. That was when Shurmur went all in on redesigning his defense to maximize Butler's do-everything skills and nose for the ball.
The Packers continued to take advantage of Butler's gift for pass coverage not only in matchups against tight ends, but also slot receivers on occasion. Plus, Butler was as reliable as ever in another traditional role of a strong safety: Run force and tackling. What changed was the frequency with which Butler creeped up or lined up near the line of scrimmage to confuse and raise havoc with offenses.
Most important, he was fit for the role. He had a natural sense for anticipating the snap and rushing the passer. Better yet, he finished plays. Rarely did he run by a quarterback or let one slip from his grasp. He almost always brought them to the ground. Butler finished the 1996 season with five interceptions, 6½ sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown on a 90-yard interception return.
"Blitzes. Sacks. Exceptional run player. Makes interceptions," Shurmur said at the time. "More than anything, he has such a big influence on wins. I'm not sure I've been around another safety with such a capacity to make plays."
Butler wasn't the first NFL safety to be used in multiple roles. Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Wilson, who played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1960-72, gave rise to the term "safety blitz." But it was Butler's play at the position that was copied across much of the league.
Still, few peers or successors matched it – Butler earned both AP All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition three straight years from 1996-98 – and few had the contagious impact he did on his teammates, both on and off the field. "Everybody talks about Reggie White, but let me just say something," said Wolf, who preceded Butler into the Pro Football Hall of Fame by seven years. "That was LeRoy Butler's locker room on the defensive side of the ball. LeRoy Butler was a great player on this team. If there ever was an offensive defensive player in the time frame that LeRoy played, it's Butler."
In 12 seasons with the Packers, Butler started 165 of 181 regular-season games and also 14 postseason games. He missed only four games in his first 11 seasons and played in 116 straight at the end of his career. As of his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Butler was one of only four players in NFL history to have intercepted at least 35 passes and registered a minimum of 20 sacks. He also forced 13 fumbles and recovered 10.
Another of his lasting legacies was his "Lambeau Leap," following a touchdown off a forced fumble against the Los Angeles Raiders on Dec. 26, 1993. That, too, was copied – in this case, by teammates – and has become a lasting and one of the most genuine and endearing traditions in the Packers' storied history.
Butler played his last game for the Packers on Nov. 18, 2001, when he fractured his shoulder blade making a tackle and was lost for the season. Eight months later, when the injury still hadn't healed, Butler announced his retirement.
Born July 19, 1968. Given name LeRoy Butler III.