2022 Pro Football Hall of Fame

GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — Eunice Butler wasn’t sure if it would happen, but if and when it did, she wanted her son to be prepared.

So a decade ago, LeRoy Butler, legendary Green Bay Packers safety, and his mother sat down and wrote a speech. She won’t hear it when he’s inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 6 in Canton, Ohio — she died in 2016. But she’d already heard most of it.

“Me and my mom, we prepared for this and talked about it,” Butler told ESPN this summer. “I’ve already finished my speech because we worked on it 10 years ago. She said, ‘It may happen one day. You may be a bit older, but it will happen.’ So I’ve always been very patient.”

Butler played for the Packers from 1990 to 2001 and is best known as the inventor of the Lambeau Leap. He first jumped into the South End Zone stands on December 26, 1993 after scoring on a fumble return, and a statue of celebration was erected outside Lambeau Field in 2014.

His Hall of Famer résumé stood on its own without celebration after the touchdown. Even so, it was 16 years after his election and 21 years after the end of his career before he was elected in February.

“When I was in the semifinals, my mom said, ‘OK, that’s great,’ but she always taught me to be a patient person,” said Butler. “I couldn’t walk until I was 5 or 6 years old, and then I had these braces on my legs like Forrest Gump. So I was Forrest Gump before Tom Hanks. … I’ve been a patient person all my life.”

Butler, 53, grew up with Eunice and four siblings in Jacksonville, Florida. Not only did he have trouble walking as a child, he said he could read long after other students in his classes. He said he was the kid who was bullied, who was never invited to sleepovers or asked to go swimming. He credits his mother and teachers for keeping him going. He doesn’t think he would have ever made it to Florida State, let alone the NFL, at a young age without her help.

Perhaps that is where his generosity comes from. Sitting on the NFL Honors podium with the rest of the Hall of Famers in February, Butler was asked what playing in the league had done for him.

“It has to be the money, right?” Butler joked. “Being a millionaire, I mean, who couldn’t answer it like that. I’m broke now but it was fun when I played. Maybe if I write ‘HOF’. [after his autograph] we can make some more money.”

Fellow contestant Tony Boselli, the former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman, sat next to Butler onstage and giggled.

“Tony probably thought I was joking,” Butler said months later.

“My biggest problem was — and I still have it to this day, and not just with money but with my time — I have a problem with saying no,” Butler said. “These are all people who have what we call hero syndrome. You always want to help people and sometimes that gets you in trouble. Most of the people who say no are rich people, and they’re probably terrible people. I have just enough for myself to survive, the rest I want to help people.”

Butler said bankruptcy never came, but a divorce and years of financial help to those around him took their toll. Butler lives in a modest house in Milwaukee and still works. He co-hosts a Milwaukee radio show on 1250AM The Fan and has launched several products including Leap Vodka. He has six adult daughters and an 11-year-old son, LeRoy Jr. He remarried in 2019 to Genesis, who will join former teammate Gilbert Brown to introduce Butler at the induction ceremony.

“He always said, ‘If I make money, you’ll make money,'” said Gary Ellerson, a former Packers running back who co-hosts a radio show with Butler. “That means he takes guys on the ride. He makes sure everyone close to him and his teammates is fed, but sometimes he forgets about himself.”

Being a Hall of Famer, Butler said, will create more opportunities. One project on his to-do list is starting a business that will help former players with financial problems restore their credit, which has plagued him post-career. He also wanted to make his own documentary about his life, and he believes being inducted into the Hall of Fame will make that possible.

“The opportunities, I always tell people, if you’re a Packer, a lot of doors open up for you, but if you’re a Hall of Famer, all doors open up for you,” Butler said.

“My whole life has been a struggle. I think people are afraid to even talk about it because they think every player is rich. If you’re a Hall of Famer, you stand a chance of maybe getting six figures for one performance. As a player who’s been retired since 2002, just knowing that this could be an opportunity is exciting.”

Butler qualified for the Hall of Fame for 14 years before becoming a finalist for the first time in 2020. This year Safety Steve Atwater joined. The next year, with Butler again a finalist, safety John Lynch boarded. Butler’s resume was as good as, or better than, Atwater and Lynch’s. Neither Atwater nor Lynch were in the 35-interception 20-sack club. Butler is one of only four that are; the others are Charles Woodson, Brian Dawkins and Ronde Barber.

“When Steve Atwater and John Lynch got on, it seemed like a certain LeRoy would get on,” said Pete Dougherty, a Green Bay Press-Gazette columnist who presented Butler’s case as a member of the selection committee.

“It was just a matter of timing. His case fitted hers very well, and it was hard to see how they would be in it and he wasn’t. 50s to 90s not included. Just a rare all-round security. His case just stacked up really well with the collateral that preceded it.

He was a finalist twice prior to his election, only to receive a phone call telling him he hadn’t made it — not the famous knock on his door to tell him he’d made it.

“I saw him go through it in Miami [in 2020]waited with him in his hotel room and he took the phone call and really let go [then-Hall of Fame president] David Baker off the hook,” Ellerson said. “LeRoy says, ‘I see, I see, thanks for the call. I’ve waited so long, I can wait again.’ Just typical LeRoy.”

Ellerson said the topic of Butler’s Hall of Fame candidacy was off-limits on her radio show.

“Maybe that’s why it took him so long to come in, because he’s so humble and wasn’t a self-promoter,” Ellerson said. “He doesn’t have the big ego that most of these guys have. The only way we could talk about the Hall of Famer and LeRoy on our radio show is if he wasn’t in the studio because he screwed up. Every time we brought people on the show who had a voice, we had to do it when he wasn’t there.

“I’m sure his mom had a lot to do with it, he was as patient as he was, and he just went about it with a smile on his face because he knew he’d get in there one day.”

https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/34174595/2022-pro-football-hall-fame-green-bay-packers-great-leroy-butler-earned-hof-nod-patience-perseverance 2022 Pro Football Hall of Fame

Emma Bowman

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