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Letters To LeRoy Butler


LeRoy, Can you ask the current players about, or offer insight into what happened to the best field celebration ever -- your own creation -- the Lambeau Leap?!? I don't think I've ever seen Ahman or Javon take the Leap, and even Driver, who "grew up with it" his first years in the league, avoided it this weekend. Did the players just get tired of it? Were the fans too exuberant? - Todd (Mahomet, IL)

The Lambeau Leap still is our signature celebration. I think in Ahman's case, the guy had just run 90 yards. He probably didn't have enough energy to get up there.

It's a spontaneous thing. When players don't do the Leap, they're not being disrespectful to the fans, it's just that sometimes they may forget. I think you're just so happy to score to help your team win, sometimes you can forget to celebrate a particular way.

As far as this weekend, Donald Driver did do a Lambeau Leap after his touchdown in the third quarter. I guess they must not have shown it on TV, but Driver did jump up and celebrate with the fans, as you can see in the picture to the right.

Dear Mr. Butler, I have a question regarding leadership and "play making". You have written that leadership in football is as much by action as by word; leaders make plays on the field. On offense, much is said about taking what the defense gives you. Could you not say the same about defense, that the defense can only take what the offense gives up? How, as a defensive player, can you choose to "make a play"; is it more mental or physical? Can you make your own luck on the football field? Thank you! from a "Thru-Thick-and-Thin" Packer Fan - Nate (Laramie, WY)

I think it's a combination of mental and physical. The mental part of it is that you have to study each week and know what the opposing offense is going to try to do, so that you can gain a step on them and make a big play. If you study their tendencies and know what they like to do in certain formations, you can improve your chances of making a game-changing play.

The physical part of being a playmaker is to make sure that you're healthy during the week so that you can make all the plays your mental preparation allows you to. You have to get proper rest so that when you go out and ask your body to get thrown around for three hours, it responds.

The one thing you can't afford to do as a leader of a football team is to make mental mistakes. You also can't give up big plays on defense. If you focus on these things, eventually you will make a big play.

Hey LeRoy, miss seeing you on the field! I am optimistic that our Packers are on track again, especially with some of the guys coming back from injury. I was wondering about the upcoming bye, what kind of things does the team work on during that off week, or is there just more emphasis on getting healthy? - Tess (Eau Claire, WI)

There's definitely an emphasis on getting healthy, but another big part of what teams do during the bye week is to look at all the negative plays from the first half of the season.

On offense, you look at a tape of all the turnovers and study those plays to see how they could have been avoided. Not turning the ball over definitely increases your chances of winning football games, so on offense you focus on hanging on to the ball.

Defensively, you look at all the big plays that you have given up - all the runs over 20 yards and all the passes over 20 yards. By watching all of these plays together, you can sometimes pick up on common mistakes that caused you to give up the big plays and you can then go out and correct them. If you can eliminate giving up big plays on defense, that could be the difference between being 6-1 and 3-4.

At the beginning of the season, the Packers were touted as having one of the best running games in the league with Green and Davenport. How much does it hurt the offense when Najeh is injured and not playing? - Mike (Webster, NY)

I think it hurts a lot whenever any of the three running backs are banged up. The Packers have really developed a three-headed monster at the tailback position with Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher.

Not having Najeh hurts the offense and it also hurts the special teams. He's one of the top special teams players on the roster. He's also one of the best back-up running backs in the entire NFL. He could probably be starting for half the teams in the league right now. When he's in there, he really allows Ahman to get good rest and be powerful to run in the fourth quarter when defenses are tired.

What has really hurt the rushing attack this year has been the fact that they have been playing from behind a lot, and that's not conducive to running the football effectively. When you get behind early, you can't utilize the power running game that usually takes a little time to develop over the course of a game.

LeRoy, Coach Sherman's speech before the Lions game really influenced the team to perform better. Did you in your career ever have such a speech before a vital game from a coach and how much does a good pep talk play a role in winning or losing the game? - Minhaj (Oklahoma City, OK)

There were two speeches that stand out to me as the best from my playing career, and they came back to back.

The first one was when Mike Holmgren talked to us in the locker room after we beat Carolina in the NFC Championship Game and said, "We're not finished yet." It was great to win the NFC, but we still had one more game that we had to take care of.

The next Saturday night, the night before the Super Bowl, Fritz Shurmur had just lost a family member, and he told us how we had to take advantage of the opportunity that we had in front of us. That was the best pre-game speech that I have ever heard - telling guys to take advantage, because you never know how long you have on this earth - that really inspired players.

I think a good pep talk can play a role in winning a game. If you're a great coach, your players will believe what you say as the gospel. You've got to make sure you say the right things to push the right buttons to get guys ready to play. You would think that as professionals, you shouldn't need a speech to get ready to play, but it never can hurt.

As a fan, it's fun to watch players tackling each other after a good play but do you think it's risky and what do coaches say about this display of enthusiasm? - Peggy (Bloomer, WI)

It's an art. I don't see it as dangerous. When you tackle a teammate in a celebration, you're not hitting him with force, you're hitting him with love, with respect. The adrenaline and the fun of the celebration is awesome. That's the Little League in every player - you want to celebrate with your guy.

I guess guys have gotten injured in celebrations, but it's usually only something minor. You don't want to take that away from the guys. You'll see Brett Favre sprint 40 yards down the field to celebrate. Guys' energy and love for the game is really evident in these moments of celebration.

You wouldn't want to see someone throw a 50-yard touchdown pass and just walk off to the sideline like he just threw an incomplete pass. You like guys celebrating, because it can demoralize the other team and really get the crowd pumped up even more.

Will the TD passes by the halfbacks cause opposing defenses to hesitate a bit when playing the outside run? Also, four different Packers have thrown a TD pass so far, what's the record? - John (Conway, AR)

I think it will cause them to hesitate a little bit, and the great part about those plays is that they are usually a run-pass option for the running back. If the back sees the play develop to where he can throw the ball, he throws it and it's usually a big gain or a touchdown. If the defense doesn't come up and play the run, he can always take off running down the sideline for a gain as well.

By running this play successfully two weeks in a row, I think this will really keep defenses honest and open things up even more in the red zone for the Packers.

As far as the record goes, that's a good question. In fact, that's this week's Trivia Contest question. Take a minute to send in your answer and check back next week for the answer and to see if you've won the prize.

LeRoy, When the Packers are beating somebody bad like they have the last two weeks do you think it would make sense for Mike Sherman to take Favre out and put in the backup? If Favre gets hurt the backup isn't going to have any real game experience. - Walt (York, PA)

The thing about it is, you never know when a team can come back in the NFL. I've seen teams come back from deficits where you would think that they have no chance. You have to be cautious of taking players out too early. Just a few weeks ago, Seattle had a big 17-point lead over the Rams with less than 10 minutes to play, and St. Louis came back to win.

Guys naturally pull back a little bit when they have a big lead, so you have to be careful about protecting a lead, no matter how big it might be. You might consider taking out some of your starters, but generally you want to have your starting linemen and quarterback in the game in case you need to move the ball.

Also, do you really think Brett Favre is going to want to ever come out of a game? He said a few weeks back when he had to watch the end of the Giants game that he hated watching the game from the sideline. I think the only way you take Brett out of the game is if there's two minutes left and you have a big lead - even then you're going to have a tough time getting #4 to stand and watch the Packers play.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is again providing exclusive analysis to beginning with training camp and later with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays, followed by a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays during the preseason and regular season.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website,*

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