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Kramer's In: Now to Begin Making the Hall of Fame Case for LeRoy Butler

With Jerry Kramer finally being voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2018, we now turn our attention to other Packers who have been waiting for the call.

Many will point to Sterling Sharpe as a deserving nominee, and I would agree. The primary argument against Sharpe seems to be that his career was cut short by injuries. But if we’re putting Terrell Davis into the Hall of Fame, whose career was similarly short and influential, then Sharpe needs to be a serious contender.

The Packer from yesteryear with the best argument, however, is LeRoy Butler, who was a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame for the first time this year since his retirement after the 2001 season.

The fact that Butler earned a semifinalist nod this year indicates he’s starting to finally get some serious consideration for enshrinement. However, it took more than a decade of eligibility for him to finally get to this point. How much longer will he have to wait to become a finalist, let alone an inductee?

Hall of Fame voters will, of course, consider Butler’s career stats. However, voters tend to use rationale that goes beyond statistics—specifically, the kind of lasting impact the player had on the sport, and as a bonus, whether there is a “story” attached to the player that makes him or her memorable (think Kurt Warner going from bagging groceries to being league MVP, or Joe Namath guaranteeing a Super Bowl win).

Let’s take a look at all of the factors voters will consider when debating Butler’s worthiness as a Hall of Fame enshrinee.

Statistics and accomplishments

First and foremost, every Hall of Famer needs to have built up an impressive resume of accolades and statistics over the course of his career. Here’s a sampler of what Butler did:

  • 889 tackles
  • 38 interceptions
  • 20.5 sacks
  • 13 forced fumbles
  • 4x Pro Bowl (1993, 1996-1998)
  • 4x all pro (1993, 1996-1998)
  • Member of the 1990s All-Decade team
  • Super Bowl champion
  • Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame

Butler’s interception numbers are likely part of what is working against him—the number 38 doesn’t exactly stand out on the all-time interception rankings.

Also hurting Butler is the fact that as of the 2018 class, only five true safeties have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Others were players who mostly played cornerback before transitioning to safety later in their careers.

However, Butler has more career interceptions than two of those five, including Brian Dawkins. He has more sacks than all but Dawkins—more to come on this later.

Perhaps most significant is Butler’s inclusion in the All-Decade team for the 90s. Historically, inclusion on All-Decade teams has been a significant indicator of Hall of Fame enshrinement, as it is chosen by the same people who vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Of the 52 players and two coaches named to the All-Decade team for the 90s, 35 have already been named to the Hall of Fame, and two more have been considered as finalists.

Perhaps even more telling: of the 22 players named to the All-90s Team first team squad, 19 of 22 are in the Hall of Fame. Two more have been finalists. The one remaining is LeRoy Butler.

Overlooked and underappreciated.

Steve Atwater, the other first-team safety on the All-90s squad, has 14 fewer interceptions, 11 fewer sacks and one fewer all-pro appearance. He was a finalist for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017.

Butler also has significantly more interceptions and sacks than big names like John Lynch and Troy Polamalu, one of whom has already generated Hall of Fame buzz, and the other of whom certainly will when he becomes eligible in a year.

Impact and legacy

Almost as important as statistical worthiness and accolades is the impact and legacy a player leaves behind.

With Butler, that legacy is versatility.

Butler is one of just three players since the league began recording sacks as a statistic to have at least 38 interceptions paired with at least 20 sacks. The other two are Charles Woodson and Ronde Barber, both of whom are future Hall of Fame locks (Barber missed out this year in his first year of eligibility, but is a sure bet to be inducted in the future). Butler was the first player in league history to notch 20 interceptions and 20 sacks.

While Butler was drafted as a corner, it was the idea of Ray Rhodes (Packers defensive coordinator at the time) to move him to safety to capitalize on his wide range of skills.

Butler was used all over the field during his 12-year Packers career. He’d play traditional deep safety one play, then line up and rush the passer like an outside linebacker in a 3-4 the next.

Versatility is one of the key attributes coaches and general managers look for in safeties today, and Butler’s success is certainly part of that. Watch what the Packers do with Morgan Burnett, or what the Steelers did with Polamalu, and it’s extremely similar to what the Packers were doing with Butler in the 90s. While Butler certainly wasn’t the first blitzing safety, it’s hard to find many earlier examples of safeties (and defensive backs in general) who were used in quite the same variety of positions as Butler.

The Packers relied on Butler’s pass rushing ability as a sort of spark plug for their defense in crucial situations. Here’s a video from Butler’s own YouTube channel that illustrates perfectly how important his pass rushing contributions were in helping the Packers win Super Bowl XXXI.

What Butler was doing all over the field in the 90s was uncommon for the time, but it has become almost expected out of safeties today. He helped pave the way for safeties to make themselves more valuable to their teams by being able to play in multiple spots on the field.

The story

Finally, for better or for worse, Hall of Fame voters will always consider factors that are not particularly relevant to the player’s on-field career, but add extra weight to their legacy or aura.

For Butler, there are two of these factors that stand out.

First, Butler will forever be remembered as the player who invented the Lambeau Leap, which is perhaps the best-known celebration in American professional sports. Even after the NFL began banning players from leaping into the stands to celebrate touchdowns, they “grandfathered in” the Lambeau Leap, as the tradition had taken on a life of its own and become an essential part of the Lambeau Field experience and mystique.

The other factor is Butler’s own personal background.

Butler, like many NFL players, came from a background of poverty. But he also faced physical challenges and limitations. As a young child, he was severely pigeon-toned. Doctors had to break multiple bones in both of his feet when he was just eight months old to be able to correct the problem. He then spent the majority of his early childhood in a wheelchair, and another couple years between the ages of six and eight wearing leg braces.

There was a very real possibility that Butler would never be able to walk normally, let alone become one of the greatest Green Bay Packers to step on the field, especially considering his family’s financial situation. But Butler overcame all of this to become a star high school athlete who was highly recruited at colleges all over the nation, to eventually being a second-round pick, a multi-time Pro Bowl and All Pro selection, to now, being a potential Pro Football Hall of Famer.

 

Needless to say, there’s a lot of reason to give LeRoy Butler some serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. First, voters need to start paying the safety position its due respect. When they do, they will find Butler to be more than worthy of being immortalized in Canton.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (11) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Savage57's picture

"Alex, I'll take 'LeRoy Butler Smack Talk' for $200."

"In Super Bowl XXXI, Patriots RB Dave Meggett heard this."

"What is, 'Who's your daddy'?"

"That's correct, still your board."

4thand1's picture

Wouldn't it be nice to have a Leroy Butler today. I was at the game when he did the 1st Lambeau leap, the crowd went nuts. Reggie White to Leroy Butler, how the hell did this team only win one SB?

Tundraboy's picture

Because they got screwed against Dallas in 95 and Holmgren flubbed the Denver game. That's two potentially. It is what it is.

John Kirk's picture

The 5 year rule bothers me. Once a player retires he should immediately be eligible to go in.

Once you're so far removed as we are with LeRoy Butler it just gets harder to get in. Fans don't seem to care. I know I don't. The Pro Bowl is seen as a joke nobody cares about and that's based on what happened during current times. So much harder generating interest for a player who didn't play a game this century.

He belongs as one of the best. I doubt he gets in.

Sterling Sharpe belongs just as much or more.

Since '61's picture

Leroy is one of those players who is right on the edge of a HOF career. He was a great Packer no doubt and I hope that he gets in. His selection to the 90s All-Decade team should be enough to qualify him but look how long it took for Jerry Kramer and he was selected for the 60s All - decade team and the only guard selected for the NFLs First 50 years all-time team.

It's a crap shoot. Butler was the best safety in the league when he played. If he played today the Packers would have no worries about the safety position. Thanks, Since '61

HankScorpio's picture

Pete Dougherty would be the person presenting Butler's case before the final vote. I hope he's ready to make as convincing a case as was made here. After Reggie, Butler was the best player on some really good defenses. He's got a nice case.

Finwiz's picture

I'm just so happy that Jerry Kramer, number 64, got in.
I feel less interested in Butler getting in, less emotionally invested.
He was a very good player, but I'm not sure he was HOF level.

flackcatcher's picture

He was a HOF level player who changed how a position was played in the NFL. Before Butler, safety's were getting subbed for CB or LB for more pass rush. Frankly SF started playing Atwater differently after they what the Packers DC had Butler doing in the Box. Butler was a amazing talent. He was the Packers shutdown CB as a rookie, as a third year player he made the defensive calls for the defense, by his 5th year he was one of top ten players in the NFL. Let me put it this way. He was Charles Woodson, before Woodson became in the Packers defense in 2009. It made no sense that Dawkins got in before Butler. A very good player, but with only a fraction of the responsibility that Butler had. It is pass time for Butler to be inducted into the HOF.

worztik's picture

Butler should be in the Hall of Fame!!! I went to a Bucs’ game years ago and on the flight I sat behind the old Viking and still the league interception leader, Paul Kraus or Krause!!! What a huge dude, which ya just don’t notice when they’re playing on Sunday. He was wearing his HOF jacket and we had a great discussion about the current state of Professional Football. He had nothing but negative comments regarding the state of the game and the today’s players... wimps!!!
I mention this only because I believe he would have approved of Butler’s play! LeRoy deserves to be in the Hall... just ask Paul Kraus or Krause!!! ;•()€

worztik's picture

I just checked... it’s Krause pronounces Kraus!!!

Ferrari Driver's picture

I would vote him in simply for inventing the Lambeau Leap!

Nevertheless, his overall play should qualify him for the HOF. He is one of my all time favorite Packer players. Great both on and off the field.

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