State Your Case: Why LeRoy Butler belongs in the Hall


There are only three first-team members of the 1990s’ all-decade team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and one of them has never been discussed.

LeRoy Butler, come on down.

The former Green Bay star was a four-time All-Pro, all-decade starter and such a key component of a Super Bowl champion that he was named to the Packers’ Hall of Fame. Yet he not only hasn’t been a finalist for Canton; he hasn’t even been a semifinalist, meaning he never, ever, ever made the cut to 25.

Someone want to explain that to me? Or, better yet, try explaining it to LeRoy Butler.

The guy checked all the boxes as one of the game’s pre-eminent defenders during his career, a strong safety who could do it all — rush the quarterback, stuff the run, cover tight ends and wide receivers, play man-to-man defense and protect the middle of the field — and he was the NFL’s first defensive back … ever … to have 20 or more career interceptions and sacks.

Furthermore, he was an innovator, the genius behind the Lambeau Leap — inventing it when he jumped into the stands after scoring on a lateral from teammate Reggie White in a December, 1993 game.

“He had no weakness,” said Hall-of-Fame GM Ron Wolf.

Then why in the world can’t he get a sniff from the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Yeah, I know, he was a safety, and the Hall is blind to the position. It least it was until last month when its board of 48 selectors admitted former safety Kenny Easley as a senior candidate. What’s more, two modern-era safeties — John Lynch and Brian Dawkins — were among the 10 finalists, with one of them a favorite to join the Hall’s Class of 2018.

And that’s great. But where does that leave LeRoy Butler? At least Steve Atwater, the other starting safety on the all-decade team of the 1990s, made it into the room. But he lasted one year and was gone. Butler can’t even get into the on-deck circle.

Reason? I have none.

He was part of a team that went to three straight conference championship games and two straight Super Bowls. He was also part of a defense that held Hall-of-Fame running back Barry Sanders to a career low minus-1 yard rushing in a 1994 playoff game.

Yet only two guys from those Green Bay clubs — quarterback Brett Favre and defensive lineman Reggie White — are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Everyone else gets in with the price of admission, and, Butler, for one, doesn’t understand.

Frankly, neither do I.

Butler was as critical to that Packers’ defense — no, maybe more so — as Lynch was to Tampa Bay when it won Super Bowl XXXVII. And while he didn’t pile up the statistics of, say, a Brian Dawkins, he was as much in charge of the Packers’ secondary as Dawkins was in Philadelphia.

Plus, he won a Super Bowl. Dawkins did not.

“I played 12 years for one team, and you don’t necessarily see that,” Butler said last year on a Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “But I would think that would help my candidacy because it puts more spotlight on the people of the ’90s who were all-decade.

“I don’t think Brett was all-decade (he wasn’t). 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.”

Agreed. But first things first: If there’s anybody else from that Green Bay team who deserves to be discussed … who deserves to be a finalist … it’s Leroy Butler, and that hasn’t come close to happening.

And that’s not just baffling. It’s a wrong that needs to corrected immediately.

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11 Comments

  1. bachslunch
    March 7, 2017
    Reply

    I’m fine with Leroy Butler (4/4/90s) being in the HoF if it ever happens. His honors are competitive with other larger-hall safeties from the 80s and beyond not in, including Steve Atwater (2/8/90s), Deron Cherry (3/6/80s), Joey Browner (4/6/80s), Darren Woodson (4/5/none), and John Lynch (3/9/none).

    • Marc
      March 7, 2017
      Reply

      Not sure how Lynch (and Woodson) has somehow moved ahead of Butler. It was Reggie and LeRoy and no other players close to HOF caliber on defense. Lynch was surrounded by HOFers Sapp and Brooks and another potential candidate in Ronde Barber. Packers team was more successful. Butler has the All-Decade and better numbers as well. How Ray Rhodes and Fritz Shurmur used Butler covering TEs and blitzing changed the way the NFL used the safety position. Also remember that Butler broke his collarbone mid-season 2001 and was forced to retire. Lost that half season and probably another 1 or 2 seasons after. Would have been the first to 40-20 but fell just short at 38-20.5 due to injury.

      Safties in order (my opinion)
      Dawkins – Butler – Atwater – Browner – Woodson – Cherry – Lynch

      Ed Reed goes to the top when eligible
      Polumalu falls in around Butler Atwater (leaning towards after them) when eligible

      • March 7, 2017
        Reply

        Reed and Polamalu are going to push some of these guys to the back of the line … with someone like Atwater gone, then forgotten. I would at least like to get Butler in the room to discuss his candidacy. Don’t think that’s too much to ask.

  2. Scott
    March 7, 2017
    Reply

    Agreed. He was a pioneer for the modern safety and changed what teams look for at the position. Teams no longer wanted a mini linebacker and a center fielder, they wanted versatile guys to drive offenses crazy. Terrell Davis even admitted he was their biggest concern in the Super Bowl because they could just run opposite Reggie.

    • March 7, 2017
      Reply

      You are right. That’s why it makes no sense that he can’t get a sniff as a SEMIFINALIST. I mean, what’s up with that? Really would like to have him in the room so we can discuss his candidacy. Deserves it after all these years, but there’s a latest-is-the-greatest mantra that seems to have engulfed our culture so that deserving safeties like Johnny Robinson, Cliff Harris, Eddie Meador, Steve Atwater and Butler get lost … then forgotten. Don’t get it.

  3. Marc
    March 7, 2017
    Reply

    Clark, thank you for this article. Spot on. It is baffling that Butler has not gotten a sniff. If you get a chance, watch the NFL films story on Super Bowl XXXII (the one they lost to Denver). It talks about how the entire Denver offensive game plan revolved around Butler and his capabilities.

    Somehow Lynch and Woodson have passed him into being semi-finalists as well, even though Butler has better numbers and was the All-Decade choice. I get he is a safety, but it sure is odd how he has gotten so lost in the shuffle.

    Thanks again.

    • March 7, 2017
      Reply

      No need to thank me. I’m part of a group that won’t even admit this guy as a semifinalist. Frankly, I really don’t understand. Maybe we can get something started here. Board seems more willing to look at safeties now.

  4. Donald Denasha
    March 7, 2017
    Reply

    I firmly believe that Players should be in the Hall of Fame … NOT TEAM OWNERS….. And Leroy Butler has earned the right to be in there.

    • Don
      March 7, 2017
      Reply

      Yes … What he said ^^^^^^

  5. Jeff
    March 11, 2017
    Reply

    Enjoyed the article. Somehow, an under-the-radar guy. I have to admit that while he was playing I saw him as a fine player but HOF never occurred to me…but I have to admit that the argument is strong and I’ve underestimated him. I’m really pulling for Atwater (and Dawkins has to get in) but Butler would fit in fine in Canton.

  6. Tina
    March 25, 2017
    Reply

    I believe Leroy should have been in the HOF many moons ago. He was exciting to watch. Also creating “the Leap” has grown to other teams. I have met him and he is a very nice person also very caring. What I don’t understand is how others that don’t have a career record that compairs to them got by him. “JUST A THOUGHT”
    My vote is for Leroy!!!

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