LeRoy Butler didn’t mind the wait. It was worth it.
Butler was the first of the eight inductees to lead off the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies Saturday and did his best to squeeze in gratitude for everyone in his journey. He thanked his seven children, his wife, Genesis, his four siblings, his favorite high school teacher, his coaches and every fan.
After a long time waiting for his call to Canton, Butler is officially a Hall of Famer.
“Sixteen years is a long time. But it’s worth the wait,” he said.
The Lee High School graduate was a terror for the Packers and helped define the safety position in the 1990s. Butler had 38 interceptions, recovered 10 fumbles and 20.5 sacks over 12 seasons in Green Bay. He was a four-time All-Pro selection and was a member of the Packers’ Super Bowl 31 champion. And Butler created the iconic Lambeau Leap, a touchdown celebration that continues in Green Bay to this day.
“No one should ever wear that 36 ever again. That number should be put up there, in a glass and be broken only in emergency,” said Butler’s former teammate Gilbert Brown in his presentation.
The play on the field is what got Butler into Canton on his 16th year of eligibility, but his backstory is something that tugs on the emotional chords and continues to inspire.
Butler overcame serious challenges in life, physical and societal.
He grew up in a poor single-parent home with four siblings, raised by his mother, Eunice O. Butler, and grandmother, Rosa Lee Durham. They lived in Jacksonville’s Blodgett project homes. Butler was bullied because he was poor and picked on because he was different.
“Duval County was amazing. But my mom, growing up in poverty, she made us think rich every day,” Butler said. “Because it’s not about what you have on or what you have, it’s how you act.”
He was born severely pigeon-toed and with club feet, medical issues that caused his feet toes to be broken and reset to help them straighten out. Butler wore braces on his legs and spent time in a wheelchair.
By the time he hit middle school, Butler had recovered enough to start running around the neighborhood and picked up sports. Butler said he credited his uncle, Charles Durham, for encouraging him to try sports. And he thanked junior high teacher Hammond Gracy for telling him to think about playing multiple sports, not just one.
He told his mother and grandmother that all the kids who picked on him would one day be asking for his autograph. That confidence
Butler thanked his favorite teacher at Lee, algebra teacher Mrs. Gordon, his coaches at then-Lee High (now Riverside), Wayne Belger, Leon Barrett and Corky Rogers.
Barrett was the one who told the always effervescent Butler
“He’s the one who [told me]… stop smiling so much to be tough,” Butler said. “But I can’t coach!”
And then there was iconic Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who Butler said would have played a large role in his Hall of Fame day if he were still alive.
Butler said he was grateful that Bowden ventured into the inner city to meet him and take a chance on him. He was a grade casualty and had to sit out his first season at Florida State, but Butler said Bowden believed in him so much that he took the chance anyway.
“I want to thank the fans. Without you, there is no LeRoy Butler. And again, my teammates. You saw Gilbert Brown. My teammates. I love y’all. Where can you go, the ultimate team sport, I can have a bad game every now and then, don’t Google it. And my other 10 teammates carried me. So my teammates, I love them.”