The weekend LeRoy Butler waited 16 years for has come to an end.
Just over 24 hours after he was formally inducted as the 357th member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Butler took one final moment to reflect on it all: his life, his career, and the moments that defined him along the way.
Speaking at the Enshrinee’s Roundtable at the Canton Civic Center on Sunday, Butler recalled a story growing up about admiring Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, playing football with his friends, and needing a white shirt to write his favorite player’s name on the back. Young Butler approached his mom and, since he grew up in poverty, had to get a shirt from the Salvation Army.
His mom then wrote Staubach’s name on the back of that shirt and misspelled it S-T-A-R-B-A-C-K.
Butler laughs at the story now and finds himself on the same team as his beloved Staubach in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a team he cannot be cut from.
“This is what football heaven really is,” Butler said.
Butler’s arrival in football heaven was actually a closely guarded secret around the Butler household. His wife Genesis received the call that her husband was finally going to Canton after a 16-year wait. The trick was she had to keep the secret from LeRoy for around a week before that fateful knock on his door by fellow Packers legend Charles Woodson.
In fact, his wife got the call while he was giving a tour of Lambeau Field. During the tour, he noticed his wife disappeared for a while. Butler continued to give the tour although he was growing concerned something may have happened to one of his children. Genesis finally rejoined the tour and assured him all was well.
Not soon after the tour, the Packers lost to the 49ers in the playoffs. In Butler’s words, “(I) was distraught.” (Who associated with the Packers wasn’t?) He said his wife contemplated telling him at that point, but she thought “He waited 16 years, he can wait another ten days.”
After those ten days elapsed, the moment arrived. Butler’s father-in-law was there and he “Never let anyone else answer the door. Nobody,” Butler said. However, when Woodson showed up at his house, Butler’s father-in-law made him answer the door. When he opened the door and saw Woodson with the gold jacket, Butler thought someone was pranking him.
“This is a joke,” Butler recalled. “I shut the door (then) I opened the door, saw the camera crew and knew it was real when I saw you Steve (Wyche of NFL Network and the emcee of the roundtable).”
Indeed it was real, and it was beautiful.
Butler was enshrined alongside a handful of his contemporaries: former New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour, former 49ers defensive lineman Bryant Young, former Jaguars offensive lineman Tony Boselli, and the late former New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers linebacker Sam Mills.
Butler shared a story from when the Packers were facing Young’s 49ers. The Packers were running a near-identical offense to the 49ers, thanks to the connection between their coach Mike Holmgren and the 49ers’ coach Bill Walsh. The terminology sometimes was even the same Butler noted, but as Brett Favre told him, “they use a ton of dummy calls” for that reason.
The 49ers lined up in split back formation and quarterback Steve Young began his cadence when the quarterback and Butler locked eyes. Young then did something that caught the safety’s attention: he winked at him. It usually doesn’t end well for defenders when a quarterback is winking at them at the line of scrimmage, especially on a designed safety blitz for Butler.
Butler knew this and signaled to Reggie White that he was going to bail out of the blitz but White insisted Butler stick to the blitz. The ball was then snapped and Butler couldn’t believe what happened next.
“Reggie and Gilbert Brown do their thing and there is a wide open path for me to (Young). So I make the sack and I told him ‘I got you even though you knew I was coming,” Butler said.
Despite that, “(Young) was the smartest quarterback to play the game,” Butler added. Given how frequently his Packers played the 49ers and how often Green Bay came out on top, that is high praise indeed.
Speaking of praise, Butler concluded the roundtable by making the case for Sterling Sharpe to join him in Canton as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2023 after naming former head coach Mike Holmgren as another candidate for enshrinement during his speech on Saturday.
It’s easy to forget what Sharpe did in his career during the current age where passing and receiving records seem to fall every season, but Butler reminded the crowd about Sharpe: “He caught 100 balls when it was hard.”
Boselli co-signed Butler’s endorsement of Sharpe. “When he played, it was him and Jerry Rice. He wasn’t playing with Joe Montana, he wasn’t playing with a lot of other great people. There was no better player in the NFL. Sterling Sharpe is one of the best people who ever played and deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Butler agreed with that endorsement and with that, his special weekend was over. He walked off the stage and began the first day of the rest of his life as an eternal resident of football heaven.