LeRoy Butler: Next time you fill out your HOF ballot, consider this


Photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)

Talk of Fame Network

LeRoy Butler was more than an accomplished safety. He was an all-decade performer at his position. He was a Super Bowl champion. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro. And now he’s a member of the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Fame.

But, as we said, he was more than that. He was an innovator, one of the first strong safeties who could do it all — rush the quarterback, cover the tight end, cover wide receivers, bring own ballcarriers, you name it. Furthermore, he was the guy who invented the Lambeau Leap, launching himself into the stands on Dec. 26, 1993, after scoring on a lateral from teammate Reggie White, who had recovered a fumble.

butlerleroymugBut he not only hasn’t been able to crack the Pro Football Hall of Fame; he hasn’t ever been named a semifinalist, and that’s something he doesn’t understand.

“If you look at the ’90s,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “just take the ’90s. There were three teams that dominated – the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco and the Green Bay Packers. And at that time it was a lot of big games (that were ) played.

“Those were the games that I played my best football. Those were the games on national television. Those were the games (that made me) a household name, not to mention creating the Lambeau Leap and things of that nature for the fans, of course. It just put a new thing on what safeties do.

“Normally, safeties were 6-2 and 230 pounds … and they would come up and hit. But I started something with (former defensive coordinator and, later, head coach) Ray Rhodes where, if they could be just six feet and 200 pounds they could cover. And, I’m telling you, every single time they had a tight end in the playbook they would put a 36 (Butlers number) above it because I would draw the assignment. And I just don’t know how many safeties drew assignments like that. They either played a lot of cover-two, cover-three, a lot of zones. But I played pure man-to-man and was effective at it. Not to mention, going after the quarterback in the ’90s. Most linebackers did that.

“As a matter of fact, most linemen and linebackers … and sometimes even a corner. But when I came around, all of a sudden safeties were doing it. Now you see guys playing safety the way I played. And I was very honored by that. And I think that’s the reason why Brian Dawkins — if he gets a chance — or Troy Polamalu. All these guys were like a framework of what I did in the ’90s.”

The Packers of the 1990s went to three conference championship games and two Super Bowls, winning once when they defeated New England in Super Bowl XXXI. They’re also the defense that held Hall-of-Famer Barry Sanders to a career low minus-one yard rushing in the 1994 playoffs.

But only two players from those teams – quarterback Brett Favre and defensive lineman Reggie White – have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and we asked Butler if they cast such large shadows on either side of the ball that maybe, just maybe, they handicapped the candidacies of others like himself.

“Here’s the thing about that,” Butler said. “Both of those guys came to Green Bay. I was at Green Bay. Those guys didn’t go through the lean years when I was there. I played 12 years for one team, and you don’t necessarily see that. But I would think that would help my candidacy because it puts more spotlight on the people in the ’90s who were all-decade.

“I don’t think Brett was all-decade ( he was not). But he definitely was a Hall-of-Fame quarterback the first time. Without a doubt. But I would argue that it would put the spotlight on anybody else, where (you would say), ‘If there’s anybody else who should make it, it should be Leroy Butler.’ ”

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