Former Green Bay Packers great LeRoy Butler has been patiently knocking on the door of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For two consecutive years, Butler was named among the 25 modern-era semifinalists for enshrinement in Canton.
It’s a well deserved distinction for Butler, who was a four-time, first-team AP All-Pro, as well as being a four-time Pro Bowler.
Butler did not make it to the final 15 for the second consecutive year as a nominee, but it appears the door might be soon be answered in terms of Butler getting a bust in Canton. Or it could also be a case of a window may be opening soon, as Pete Dougherty of PackersNews.com recently wrote.
The next safety to most likely make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is Steve Atwater, formerly of the Denver Broncos. Atwater was named to the NFL’s All-Decade of the 1990s team as a first-team safety.
Guess who the other first-team safety was on that 1990s team? If you answered Butler, you are correct.
Atwater and Butler are the only two first-team players on that 1990s team not enshrined in Canton.
I talked to Rick Gosselin earlier this week and Gosselin is not only a voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he sits on two important committees. One being the Seniors Committee, while the other is the Contributors Committee.
Gosselin played a big role in helping get Jerry Kramer his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. Not only did he speak out on Kramer’s behalf in the seniors meeting in August to get Kramer nominated as a senior candidate, he also gave one of two presentations for Kramer to the entire 48-person Selection Committee on February 3, 2018.
Dougherty gave the other presentation for No. 64.
Kramer was inducted later that day.
Gosselin is an avid believer that any player who is named to an All-Decade team deserves strong consideration into being enshrined into the Hall of Fame. That is why he too believes that Butler has a chance to get in fairly soon.
Speaking of All-Decade players, Gosselin also believes that wide receiver Boyd Dowler of the Packers, who was on the the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1960s, deserves the same consideration.
Not only was Dowler on that team, but he was also on the second-team of the NFL 50th anniversary team. Dowler and tight end Ron Kramer of the Packers (third-team) are the only members of that 45-player team to not have a bust in Canton.
When I told Gosselin last year that I was planning on doing a series of articles about Packers who I believe belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Rick told me to make sure that I included Dowler, Kramer and Gale Gillingham.
Back to Butler now. First of all, the former Florida State Seminole star is one of only four defensive backs in NFL history to have at least 35 interceptions and 20 sacks. Butler had 38 picks and 20.5 sacks in his 12-year career with the Pack.
The other three are Charles Woodson (65/25) formerly of the Packers and Oakland Raiders, Ronde Barber (38/28) formerly of the Tampa Bay Bucs and Brian Dawkins (37/26) formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, who was enshrined into the Hall in 2018.
Woodson looks to be a definite first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2021.
Atwater, who was among the final 15 players this year in the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting had 24 interceptions and five sacks, while John Lynch, formerly of the Bucs and the Broncos, and who was also among the final 15 players in the voting, had 26 picks and 13 sacks.
Lynch has been a finalist six times.
Butler, Atwater and Lynch also all played for Super Bowl champions in their careers.
Butler played a key role in the 35-21 win by the Packers over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. The Packers were down 14-10 in the game when defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur decided to create more pressure on quarterback Drew Bledsoe of the Pats.
Shurmur directed Butler to start blitzing. Butler sacked Bledsoe once, plus his aggressiveness created even more sacks and pass pressure on Bledsoe. The Packers had five sacks in the game (three by Reggie White) and also caused Bledsoe to throw four interceptions.
In the great legacy of the Packers, Butler played in more games (181) than any other defensive back in team history. Besides his 38 picks and 20.5 sacks, Butler also had 13 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries.
No. 36 always seemed to be around the ball.
Butler also created the “Lambeau Leap” in 1993, when in a game against the Los Angeles Raiders, Butler took a lateral from White who had recovered a fumble, and No. 36 took it all the way to the end zone for a score.
It was Butler’s first career touchdown and because of the excitement, Butler leaped into the stands at Lambeau Field. The “Leap” has become a fixture now after the Packers score a touchdown at home. Not all players do the “Leap” after a score, but most do.
There is no doubt that Butler has the résumé to definitely become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The door or window seems to be opening for Butler and other safeties like Atwater and Lynch (as well as Troy Palamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers) to get a bust in Canton. Of the 318 members now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there are just 11 pure safeties who have been inducted, with the latest being Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens and Johnny Robinson of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Two of those 11 safeties played with the Packers. One was Emlen Tunnell, who spent most of his career with the New York Giants, while the other was Willie Wood, who Tunnell was a mentor to early in Wood’s career.
Another former Green Bay safety who deserves to be in Canton is Bobby Dillon.
The bottom line is that Butler will eventually get a bust in Canton. I base that comment because of what I have heard from Gosselin, who has one of the more powerful voices among the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
While I was crusading for Kramer to get his rightful enshrinement among the best of the best in Canton over several years, Gosselin reassured me that Kramer would eventually get in and indeed it finally happened. Rick told me the same thing earlier this week about Butler.
When Butler is finally enshrined, you can bet that Packer Nation will “leap” for joy!