JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – LeRoy Butler struggled to walk as a child and spent parts of his childhood in a wheelchair.
For a player who’s credited with creating one of the most famous touchdown celebrations in the NFL — the Lambeau Leap — Butler’s perseverance was easy to spot.
It carried him from the projects in Jacksonville and through an assortment of physical ailments with his legs to the highest of honor in professional football.
Butler, the longtime Green Bay Packers safety, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Thursday night. He was joined by former Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli in making it the most successful induction night ever for the area.
Butler and Boselli are the fifth and sixth players with area ties to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Butler is the fourth former city star to earn enshrinement, joining Harold Carmichael and Brian Dawkins (both Raines), and the iconic Bob Hayes (Matthew Gilbert). Charlton County High School graduate Champ Bailey is the other.
For Butler, it was a quicker journey to enshrinement than it was for Boselli, but not one without trials.
Butler grew up in the projects in Jacksonville and struggled just to be able to walk early in his life, the result of being born severely pigeon-toed with clubbed feet. Butler had to wear braces on his legs to help straighten them out and spent time in a wheelchair as a child. Butler wasn’t coordinated enough to walk long distances back then. Playing sports wasn’t feasible.
The dream to be just like his able-bodied friends — however unrealistic it seemed as a child — kept Butler focused on what could be. With physical therapy and wearing those heavy leg braces, Butler’s legs eventually straightened out.
He went on to star at linebacker at Lee High for iconic coach Corky Rogers in the Backyard and went on to shine for Bobby Bowden at Florida State. Butler started for three seasons there and was involved in one of the most famous plays in college football history — the puntrooskie against Clemson in 1988.
If fans have never seen that play — the fake punt, Butler holding the handoff for a little more than a second and then taking off down the left sideline for a gain of 78 yards to set up a 24-21 win — they’ve no doubt heard about it.
As good as Butler was at FSU, he was better in the NFL.
A second-round draft pick by the Packers in 1990, Butler spent 12 seasons in the NFL, all with Green Bay. He’s the originator of the famous Lambeau Leap, which still sees Green Bay players spring up into the stands to celebrate a big play with fans.
Butler switched from cornerback to strong safety in his third season and helped the Packers win Super Bowl 31. Butler was a four-time All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowl selection. He was the only first-team member of the 1990s All-Decade team who was not enshrined.
That’s not the case now.