After winning Super Bowls I and II, the Packers collapsed into mediocrity for the better part of the 1970s and 1980s. The best way to describe the wonder years for those Packers is to look at the Cleveland Browns of today. No one wanted to play for Green Bay. Being sent to the Frozen Tundra at the time was like career suicide. Many players did not know where Green Bay even was. For many, the CFL or USFL seemed like better options for players than going to the NFL’s “Siberia.” However, in the 90s that all changed. Names like Brett Favre, Reggie White, and Antonio Freeman aided in bringing back a winning attitude to a city that needed it the most. All three rejuvenated a franchise that suffered from mediocrity for close to three decades.
Yes, these names helped the Packers win a Super Bowl and two NFC Championships, but one man is always forgotten, lost in the shuffle some may say. He was a mainstay on one of the best defenses in Packer history, that 1996 team that brought the Vince Lombardi Trophy home where it belonged. His name is LeRoy Butler. Drafted in the second round of the 1990 NFL Draft out of Florida St, Butler was chosen by Green Bay for his knack for always being around the ball, a great tackler, and creating pressure on blitzes. His first three years on the team, he played cornerback, but eventually shifted into his most prominent role as the Packers strong safety from the 1993 season until his eventual retirement in 2001. During this nine year span is when Butler would make a name for himself, where he would become a leader for the revitalized Green Bay Packers franchise.
Throughout his NFL career, Butler recorded 38 interceptions, forced 13 fumbles, recovering ten of them, 721 tackles, and 20.5 sacks. He was named to the Pro Bowl four times, selected as an All-Pro four times, was apart of the 1990’s all-decade team, and was enshrined in the Packers Hall of Fame in 2007. In addition to all of these accomplishments, he is also credited for the famous touchdown celebration in Green Bay, the Lambeau Leap.
For the first time, Butler was named a semi-finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 27 players who made the first cut will then be trimmed down to 15 in January. After that, a maximum of five modern-era representatives will be voted into the class of 2018, and those five along with up to three senior nominees will be announced the day before Super Bowl 52. It is possible for Butler to make the cuts, and compared to similar players in the running for a coveted spot in the Hall of Fame, Butler’s stats are considerably better than those players who played the same or similar position to Butler. Those players include Steve Atwater, Ronde Barber, Brian Dawkins, and John Lynch. Butler has more sacks and fumble recoveries than Atwater and Lynch. He has more interceptions than Atwater, Dawkins, and Lynch. Butler also has more All-Pro selections than Atwater, Barber, and Lynch, while being tied for the same amount of selections as Dawkins.
Clearly, Butler has the stats for the Hall of Fame, but most hall of famers have contributed something to the game, and have had a lasting impact in some way on the gridiron. He started a trend for every Packer player when they score a touchdown at Lambeau Field. It was another bitter cold game at Lambeau in late December. The Packers were looking to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 1982. With a win versus the Los Angeles Raiders, who were also looking to clinch a playoff spot, the Packers would be in the playoffs. The Packers did just that, but the play that cemented a win for the Packers that day was a forced fumble by Reggie White who then lateraled the fumble to Butler who scored on and leaped into the stands to celebrate. Little did Butler know that single leap would help the Packers become a dominant force in the 1990s and beyond, but he started a trend for celebrating touchdowns at Lambeau Field for years to come.
It’s a shame that Butler is not in Hall of Fame discussions as much as the aforementioned players similar to him. All we can do is wait for the finalists to be announced in the coming months. If Butler is not enshrined this year, it will only be a matter of time before his name is called. He accomplished so much during his amazing career and deserves all the recognition he can get.