It took 20 years from when he last donned a green and gold uniform, but LeRoy Butler became the 28th member of the Packers franchise to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.

The former safety—a fan favorite—had a most colorful journey to Canton, and thanked his family, teammates, and fans for shaping him into a hall of famer.

“16 years is a long time, but it’s worth the wait,” Butler said.  “When you make the hall of fame, football heaven opens up.”

“From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap.”  The sub-title of his book, The LeRoy Butler Story, aptly describes the journey of the former Green Bay Packer safety from his tough Jacksonville, Fla., upbringing to stardom in the National Football League.

Born with club feet, Butler overcame the disability that rendered him in steel braces and wheelchair-bound as a young boy and the dangers of his “projects” neighborhood to become a key member of the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl teams in the 1996-1997 seasons.

Always a team leader and supremely confident, Butler endeared himself to Packer fans during his 12-year career from 1990-2001 with his play-making abilities and genuine and positive personality.

He started a Packer tradition in 1993 with the “Lambeau Leap,” now a common practice by players throughout the NFL in celebrating their touchdowns with fans.  Butler enjoys retelling the story of how the Lambeau Leap originated in a 28-0 win over the Los Angeles Raiders on a bitter cold December afternoon in 1993.

“Vince Evans threw a screen pass and I forced Randy Jordan to fumble,” Butler explained.  “Reggie (White) picked it up and was running toward the goal.  Steve Wisnieski, the Raiders’ guard, had Reggie and he laterals it to me and I’m running down the sideline, my first ever touchdown in the pros.  All I could see was the fans and all the blaze orange, because it’s deer hunting season in Green Bay.

“I pointed up at this guy holding a beer and just jumped up in the stands.  Thank God he dropped the beer and caught me.  The first thing he said to me was: ‘You owe me a beer.’

“Everyone in the first couple rows just cracked up laughing over that.  I go back to the sidelines smelling like Miller Genuine Draft and nachos.  The guys were all asking me why I jumped in the stands.  I said it was just a spontaneous thing.”

Never at a loss for words or opinions, the charismatic Butler was a media favorite in Wisconsin before he even arrived in the state.  After the Packers selected the Florida State cornerback in the second round of the 1990 draft, Butler spoke from his Jacksonville home with head coach Lindy Infante and the Wisconsin media via a conference call.

As retold in Butler’s book, Infante said “LeRoy, we’re glad to have you.  When we saw you were there, we felt lucky.  We think you will be playing for this organization a long time.  Do you have any questions for us?”

“Only one,” I (Butler) said nervously.  “Where is Green Bay?”

The entire conference call of media and staff just erupted into laughter.  That was the beginning of knowing that I was going to be dealing with the media a certain way—with honesty and humor.  My coaches didn’t always appreciate how direct I could be, but it was my style.”

Lee Remmel, team historian, said:  “LeRoy Butler was certainly one of the most colorful and confident athletes in Packer history, from day one to the end of his career.  And one of the most productive.

“In the latter stage of his career, he was a great counsel and teacher for the younger defensive backs we brought in.  But what I liked most about LeRoy was that he went into every game thinking the Packers would win.  He was the ultimate competitor.”

Success did not come immediately, as the Packers recorded dismal 6-10 and 4-12 campaigns under Infante in 1990 and 1991.

The turning point was when new general manager Ron Wolf hired Mike Holmgren as head coach in 1992 and traded for quarterback Brett Favre from Atlanta.  And the final piece was signing highly coveted free-agent Reggie White in 1993.

“Ron Wolf said changes were going to be made when he was hired,” Butler said.  “There wasn’t a lot of people left over, but I knew when Reggie joined us that we’d have an opportunity to win a championship.”

One big change in 1992 involved Butler.  Holmgren and defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes moved him from cornerback to strong safety to fully utilize his talents.

“They decided to move him to strong safety to take advantage of all his abilities,” Wolf recalled.  “That was a key move for our defense.  LeRoy Butler was a natural born leader.  He was tough, smart, fast, and understood the game of football.  And the rest is history—he was the best strong safety in football.  He deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“He was a tough guy who spoke his mind.  He’s a real person.  What the hell does that mean?  LeRoy was genuine and honest—he told you what he really thought, not what he thought you wanted to hear.  He was interested in what was best for the team and the Green Bay Packers.  As a team administrator, you really appreciated that.”

The Packers just missed the playoffs in 1992 with a 9-7 record.  The same record would yield playoff appearances in 1993 and 1994, but with the same ending:  road losses to the Dallas Cowboys at the divisional level. In 1995, the 11-5 Packers again lost to the rival Cowboys at Texas Stadium in the NFL championship game.

As a boy growing up in his poor Jacksonville neighborhood, Butler and his friends idolized speedster Bob Hayes, a local sports legend who went on to win two Olympic medals and star for Dallas.  “We wanted to beat the Cowboys so bad,” Butler said.  “Enough was enough.  We knew we were so close to a championship.”

While the goal of beating Dallas would not be accomplished until the 1997 regular season, the Packers more importantly ended a 29-year drought by winning Super Bowl XXXI with a 35-21 win over New England in New Orleans.

The season highlight for Butler?  The 30-13 NFL championship victory over the Carolina Panthers in Lambeau Field.

“In my mind, being in the ’96 championship game, on the Frozen Tundra, in Lambeau Field, with everyone watching because the Packers hadn’t won a championship in nearly 30 years,” Butler recalled.  “The fans had waited so long for this.  On that stage afterwards, watching our screaming fans celebrating, the players going around the stadium thanking them, knowing we’re going to the Super Bowl, that was just awesome.  That was six years in the making.”

Butler was a tremendous weapon in defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur’s aggressive schemes in 1996, blitzing and disrupting plays.  Butler had 6.5 sacks to go with five interceptions, including one for 90 yards and a touchdown. “He was the team leader on defense,” Wolf said.  “Whether intercepting or dogging (blitzing) or making a big tackle, Butler was usually the guy who came up with a big play.”

The Packers returned to the Super Bowl in the 1997 season, falling to the John Elway-led Denver Broncos by a 31-24 margin.  One of the keys to Denver’s win was a game plan devised around neutralizing Butler on defense by matching him up with tight end Shannon Sharpe.  “It was a good strategy,” Butler said.  “I was making tackles downfield all day instead of what I usually do.”

That would be the last Super Bowl appearance for the Packers, as Holmgren departed for Seattle after the 1998 season, Ray Rhodes was fired after just one season with an 8-8 mark, and Mike Sherman took over as head coach in 2000.

Green Bay missed the playoffs that year with a 9-7 mark, and Butler’s career would abruptly end on Nov. 18, 2001 against Atlanta at Lambeau Field during a 12-4 season, which included a Wild Card playoff win over San Francisco at home before a Divisional loss at St. Louis.

In the second quarter of the Falcon game, Butler lowered his shoulder and hit Atlanta running back Maurice Smith head on in the second quarter, breaking his right shoulder blade.  He was placed on the injured reserve list and would not play another down, eliminating his chance to become the first player in NFL history to record 40 interceptions and 20 quarterback sacks.

After nine months of extensive rehab, doctors determined Butler’s shoulder was not healing fast enough, surgery would not correct the problem, and that the bone could not withstand the rigors of professional football.  At Brett Favre’s Steakhouse on July 18, 2002, Butler announced his retirement.  The five time All-Pro and Pro Bowler played in a 181 games during his career, a Packer record for defensive backs, and finished with 38 interceptions and 20.5 sacks.

“I wanted it to be a celebration, for 12 wonderful years I had in Green Bay,” said Butler, who bought his mother a new house and car with his first signing bonus.  “A lot of people think professional athletes are just born a Green Bay Packer, or a Dallas Cowboy, or a Hall of Famer.

“But it starts with the people close to you, your family.  My mother and family showed me the way.  For me, my mother was everything—she kept our family focused and driven.  I came from one of the worst housing projects and was told by doctors I wouldn’t walk.  I was like Forrest Gump with my steel braces.  When I could finally run (age 8), I got involved in sports.

“But I had a great family and put myself around great people.  I wasn’t a thug or a knucklehead getting into trouble.  I was lucky to have great teachers and coaches, from high school and college to the pros.  I wasn’t the fastest guy, didn’t have all the muscles, but I always felt I was the smartest player on the field.”