UPDATE: As of November 21, 2017 LeRoy Butler was named a semifinalist, for the first time, for the Pro Football Hall of Fame — but he wasn’t inducted. Since then it’s been the same, but there’s always hope for next year!
The Green Bay Packers have an extensive history at the safety position, but you can’t even begin to talk about the position without mentioning LeRoy Butler. He and Willie Wood are, by far, the best safeties this historic franchise has ever employed.
Wood is in the Hall of Fame, but Butler sits in relative obscurity when it comes to his place in NFL history. His accomplishments speak for themselves, but he hasn’t been given the credit he is due. We all know about the most-famous Packers Hall of Fame snub — Jerry Kramer. But Kramer has since been inducted! No. 36 deserves to have just as many people campaigning for him to get in.
Here are 7 reasons why LeRoy Butler deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
1. On the All-Decade Team: LeRoy Butler was named to the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade First Team, as chosen by the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters. First Team. Meaning if that entire decade had a starting lineup, he’d be on it. Out of the 11 defensive players on the First Team he is one of just two players not in the Hall of Fame (Steve Atwater is the other, but he has previously been a finalist for the Hall).
Five players on the NFL’s 1990s All-Decade Second Team are in the Hall of Fame… but not Butler. If you think your brain hurts now, just keep reading.
2. Rebranded a Position: Butler was the first defensive back in NFL history to record 20 interceptions and 20 sacks in a career. Let that sink in. He hit that mark before anyone else in league history. He rewrote the NFL record books and in the process he literally changed the role of safeties in the NFL and what the position could be. Safeties didn’t have to drop back all of the time anymore, they could now regularly attack the line of scrimmage.
The great safeties before him (Willie Wood, Ronnie Lott, Paul Krause, Emlen Tunnel, etc) were known for their tackling, ball-hawking skills and interceptions. Some were known primarily for their big hits. Butler changed that. After his success, safeties became known for their sacks and blitzing ability, too.
Look at the amazing careers of Troy Polamalu and Rodney Harrison — they don’t happen without Butler coming first and changing the position. The same can be said about the Minnesota Vikings’ current safety Harrison Smith, to a lesser extent.
3. Four-Times All-Pro: What is the complete list of safeties since 1966 (the beginning of the Super Bowl Era) to be named First-Team All-Pro at least four times, you ask?
Well, it’s LeRoy Butler, Larry Wilson, Ronnie Lott, Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. Just six players. Wilson, Lott and Dawkins are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Reed and Polamalu are seemingly locks to make it in sometime after they become eligible. Why is Butler left out?
It’s worthy of note that by the time Butler retired, with 20.5 sacks, Dawkins had registered just 6.5 sacks in his career. Despite the fact they have comparable total career numbers — Butler obviously came first. That said, Dawkins’ career high was 3.5 sacks in a single-season, while Butler’s career high was 6.5 and Dawkins’ career high in interceptions in a season was 4, while Butler’s was 6 (while posting three other 5-interception seasons).
It’s clear that Butler was a cut-above as a playmaker, but it should be mentioned that he had already changed the safety position by the time Dawkins made his first Pro Bowl in 1999. The first time Dawkins was named First Team All-Pro was Butler’s last season in the NFL.
Dawkins was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018, which was bad for Butler because safety is such an undervalued position in the eyes of voters, for some reason.
So if just one deserves a place in the Hall, between the two, it should have gone to the guy that came first (and won a championship).
4. Champion: Winning a Super Bowl certainly doesn’t qualify a player for the Hall of Fame, obviously. But Butler didn’t just win a Super Bowl. He was a leader on a team full of star players and helped direct the Packers to their first Super Bowl since the Lombardi Era. In fact, he had the best season of his career in 1996, when the Packers won it all, and even recorded a signature sack in their Super Bowl victory.
Sure, Brett Favre and Reggie White get credit for leading that magical team, but Butler was every bit the leader that they were. Not to mention, he was on the team before both of them.
His 1996 stats are jaw-dropping: 5 interceptions, 6.5 sacks, 1 touchdown, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 65 tackles, and 149 interception return yards. I’d say he had a big hand in why that team had the league’s No. 1 ranked defense in 1996.
5. Loyalty and Durability: Butler spent his entire 11-year career with the Packers and in those years, despite playing with multiple injuries, he only missed 11 games (playing in 181 regular season and 14 playoff games). He was discernibly tough. In fact, he’s seventh all-time in Packers history in games played). Not many players in the salary cap era have spent their entire career with one team and almost no one can stay that healthy in the process.
These attributes don’t make a Hall of Fame inductee, but they certainly do help bolster a resume. Especially the resume of a four-time All-Pro, position-altering, Super Bowl Champion, record-setting player. But his Pro Football Hall of Fame resume doesn’t end there.
6. Invention of a Tradition: How many players in NFL history can say they have left a lasting legacy like Butler? Much less in a tradition-rich place like Green Bay. Ask yourself, what is the most fun tradition at Lambeau Field? Yeah, he invented that.
The first “Lambeau Leap” spontaneously occurred in 1993 when Butler scored on a fumble recovery (on a fumble he forced). After scoring, he jumped–or leaped–into the raucous crowd and well, you know the rest. Wide receiver Robert Brooks popularized the “Lambeau Leap” over the next few years, but credit is still owed to Butler. Today Packers still jump into the crowd; it is the ultimate metaphor for Packers fans’ unparalleled involvement and interaction with their team.
It really is time for him to Leap into the Hall.
7. All-Time Packers Great: He truly is one of the best players in franchise history. This is an irrefutable fact. And this is true about a franchise which boasts 24 members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was a leader for one of the franchise’s most successful stretches. Butler played the entire 1990s in Green Bay and the Packers led the NFL in wins that decade. That is no coincidence (of course having Brett Favre and Reggie White helped, too).
Out of all defensive Packers players, he has the most tackles in team history (721). Yes, it’s true that tackles weren’t recorded until the 1980s but it’s still impressive. It’s obvious that he didn’t only bring immense leadership to the Packers, he was an elite tackler, too.
When taking another look at his stats it’s nothing short of impressive. Even though he perennially amassed massive amounts of tackles (for his position) and an unprecedented number of sacks, he stillregistered at least one interception for 11 consecutive years (including 24 in a wondrous five-year span from 1993-97).
That’s right, for five years he was the unquestioned top player at his position in the league. From 1993-97 he intercepted 24 passes and helped the Packers go to two Super Bowls.
He ended his career with 38 regular season interceptions, despite often playing near the line of scrimmage. Although his 13 career forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries, three playoff sacks and one playoff interception are worthy of mention as well.
But What really set him apart?
Butler was essentially a linebacker playing All-Pro safety.
He was unique; he was something the game had never seen before. He was smart, tough and had a knack for the big play. He was a quiet leader who led best by example and was respected for his toughness. Once again, he was a star on a team of stars, but was very comfortable watching–no, helping–others shine.
He was the ultimate team guy; he didn’t draw attention toward himself.
Perhaps that is why he’s been overlooked for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for so long (since his first year of eligibility in 2006). He was never known for character issues off the field and has been a big part of the Green Bay community, even after his retirement. He didn’t create waves and because of that he didn’t become a bigger name outside of Wisconsin.
He still doesn’t draw attention to himself, even though he should be more vocal about belonging in the Hall. To this day he remains humble and a person to look up to.
It’s time he gets his due and gets to put on that gold jacket. Favre and White will always get the most attention for those great years in the mid-1990s, but I don’t think that team accomplishes everything it did without Butler.
Few players have impacted the Green Bay Packers as profoundly as LeRoy Butler. His legacy is rock-solid in Green Bay, it’s time the same can be said for Canton.