Memories everywhere in Jacksonville for Pro Football Hall of Famer LeRoy Butler

Former Lee High star is back in town being honored this week

Jacksonville native and former Packers safety LeRoy Butler signs autographs on Thursday night at Crispy's in the Springfield area. (Justin Barney, News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – LeRoy Butler is always smiling.

So, it’s fitting that his Pro Football Hall of Fame bust will be, too.

Butler has been back in Jacksonville this week as he continues a celebration from his selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month. Butler, who was born and raised in Jacksonville, is the first player from Lee High School — now Riverside High — to be elected to football’s exclusive society.

Butler still visits Jacksonville and still has plenty of family who live here. There are memories all over town for Butler, from the projects to the football field that he grew up starring on.

But returning home this time was a bit different from all of the others. The former Packers safety did it this time as a hall of fame selection, and Jacksonville was there to celebrate one of its own.

“Well, if you know me, like know me know me, I’m really embarrassed by doing a lot of this because I don’t do it for to be famous,” Butler said. “I do it to tell my story which is paramount to my family, my kids.”

Butler is the fourth player who played high school football in the city to make the Hall of Fame. He joins Harold Carmichael and Brian Dawkins (both Raines) and Bob Hayes (Matthew Gilbert High School) to get the gold jacket. Just over the border, Charlton County High School graduate Champ Bailey was a 2019 inductee.

Former Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli is being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with Butler in August, something that both men have said is akin to an adopted son (Boselli) and a native son (Butler) pulling off the feat.

Butler stopped by Riverside on Thursday and said that he got to meet numerous students at the school, see people he recognized and even reconnected with one of his favorite teachers, Mrs. Gordon.

“She still looks the same as she did 30 years ago,” he said.

At an autograph signing on Thursday night, Butler said the return home was another overwhelming stop on his journey.

“It was very emotional. If you know my story, for every parent who has a special needs kid, going through poverty, it’s a great story. I don’t know why God chose me as the person to navigate these waters to eventually get into the Hall of Fame, but I’m glad he did,” Butler said.

“Because this kind of platform is amazing, because there’s so many kids in Jacksonville and Duval County that’s maybe struggling with a lot of things, anxiety and mental health, things of that nature. I represent them.”

Butler’s story resonates even more now than it did back then.

Butler went to Beauclerc and R.V. Daniels elementary schools, then Douglas Anderson and Fort Caroline. He had a brief stop at Parker before going to Lee High. The latter is where he’d shine the brightest in athletics, starring for Corky Rogers on the football field before signing with Florida State.

Butler overcame severe physical issues as a child. He was born severely pigeon-toed and had clubbed feet, relying on leg braces to help him walk. Butler was bullied relentlessly, picked on for his struggles to walk and because his family was poor and lived in public housing.

Football and an insatiable appetite to overcome helped carry him to stardom. Butler was a star for Rogers at Lee and then went on to do the same for Bobby Bowden at Florida State.

Butler said that Rogers and Bowden are two of the three people who he desperately wished were still here to enjoy the hall of fame journey with him. Butler’s mother, Eunice, his biggest supporter, was No. 1 on his list.

Rogers, the legendary coach at Lee High and Bolles, died on Feb. 26, 2020. Bowden, the Florida State coaching icon, died last August.

Butler spent 12 seasons in the NFL and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection. He had 721 tackles, 38 career interceptions and forced 13 fumbles. Butler is credited with starting Green Bay’s iconic Lambeau Leap celebration, which is only fitting for a boy who struggled to even walk growing up.

Now, he’s bound for Canton, a place that Butler will put his own stamp on, starting with his hall of fame bust.

“It’s a funny story about the bust, because I’m always smiling. So, the young man who does that, he goes, ‘well you know if you smile it’s going to look like you got brown teeth,’” Butler said.

“I said ‘yeah, but I want it to be authentic like it’s me. I’ve always been a happy, smiling person, if you know me, no matter how bad it was. In the projects, I always was a happy kid. The reason why I was happy because I knew how my life was going to end. I knew one day that I was going to play in the NFL and do great things. So, I’m just so excited because I represent so many people.”


About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.