July 19 is Leroy Butler’s 48th birthday, and he overcame enormous childhood obstacles to play football at the highest level. Often in a wheelchair, Butler was forced to wear heavy leg braces to correct his pigeon-toed condition from age six. Knocking off the braces like Forrest Gump at age eight, Butler found that he had a gift for athletics. Drafted out of Florida State in the second round of the 1990 draft by Green Bay, he began his Packer career as a cornerback, his college position.
New coach Mike Holmgren shifted Butler to strong safety in 1992, and Leroy began to show what a big-play defender he could be. In 1993, he made All-Pro and was selected to his first Pro Bowl. He would repeat those honors from 1996-98. Butler also created a new tradition on December 26, 1993 when he took a lateral from Reggie White after a fumble recovery, dashed the final 25 yards to the end zone and spontaneously kept going right into the stands. The Lambeau Leap was born.
A bout with pneumonia weakened Butler in 1994, but he was back at full strength in 1995 and ready to take a fuller role in Fritz Shurmur’s imaginative defensive scheme. Shurmur liked to line Butler up close to the line to take advantage of the 6’ 210 pounder’s blitzing and run stuffing talents. Butler recorded 6.5 sacks and five interceptions in the championship season of 1996 and became the first player to accumulate over 20 sacks and over 30 interceptions.
Beyond his tackling and ball skills, Butler was excellent in covering tight ends and even wideouts with his good range. In addition, he was the vocal leader in the secondary, making the calls for all presnap adjustments. When he broke his shoulder blade midseason in 2001 making the final tackle of his career, the team lost a leader and a winner.
(Adapted from Green Bay Gold)
Custom card in the 1961 Fleer style.