Growing up in Jacksonville, few could have imagined LeRoy Butler would one day be a football legend. In fact, at times there was uncertainty around whether Butler would even be able to run. Born with brittle bones in his feet, Butler spent a good portion of his childhood in leg braces, casts, and a wheel chair.
Those inauspicious beginnings did not ultimately define Butler—he refused to let them—but they make his legacy all the more remarkable.
Butler arrived at Florida State in the fall of 1986, as he and his high school rival Ronald Lewis both made the decision to move a couple hours west. While he was a heralded high school prospect, named to several All-American teams, he was also joining an absolutely loaded Florida State secondary that included future NFL standouts like Martin Mayhew, Dedrick Dodge, and Deion Sanders. Playing time was predictably scarce.
However, by 1987 Butler began making his presence felt. Playing in what is arguably FSU’s best defensive backfield of all time, on what is arguably FSU’s best team of all time, Butler saw action in 10 games as a Swiss Army knife capable lining up at both safety spots and corner. Despite not starting a game, Butler finished 10th on the team in tackles and helped the 1987 Seminoles defense limit opponents to a 41.6% completion percentage and barely 140 passing yards per game.
Then came September 17th, 1988. On a soggy South Carolina afternoon, Butler and Bobby Bowden both became immortalized in college football history (incredibly, Butler would leave an equal—if not greater—legacy in the NFL, but more on that in a bit). You can check out a full breakdown of the Puntrooskie here, as it checked in at third on our top 100 plays countdown last summer, but I’ll never miss an opportunity to watch what Beano Cook referred to as “The greatest play since My Fair Lady.”
The very next week FSU welcomed their first ever Big 10 opponent to Tallahassee in the form of defending Rose Bowl champ Michigan State. For the second consecutive game Butler came up big in the 4th quarter, this time effectively ending any real threat of a loss with his pick-6.
After the 1988 season concluded, FSU witnessed the exodus of many of the names who started the Dynasty. Among them were Chip Ferguson, Sammie Smith, Pat Tomberlin, and of course, Prime Time himself. Many worried the Seminoles would take a step back after two straight top four finishes and these concerns appeared well-founded after the ‘Noles started the season 0-2.
However, Butler, who moved over to the starting corner back role for his senior year, made sure everyone knew FSU was here to stay.
Having evened up their record at 2-2, the Seminoles ventured north to take on a top 20 Syracuse team. Butler put the exclamation point on FSU’s 41-10 demolition with this 87 yard interception return for a touchdown, his second INT of the day:
Butler picked off another pass the following week in Blacksburg, Virginia, leading the ‘Noles to another blowout victory. Then two weeks later he jump-started what is fondly remembered as one of the greatest—and loudest—games ever in Doak Campbell Stadium with his opening play interception that ranked 35th on last summer’s countdown.
Butler would cap his senior season in Tempe, Arizona with yet another interception, as Florida State destroyed number six Nebraska 41-17 in the Fiesta Bowl. His seven interceptions (eight including the Fiesta Bowl) still rank 5th all time for a single season in FSU history and, along with 94 tackles and nine more pass break-ups, would earn him consensus first-team All-American status.
Following the 1989 season Butler was selected 48th overall in the 1990 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers, where he’d soon be joined by Edgar Bennett and Terrell Buckley. Playing primarily as a safety, Butler enjoyed a stellar career in Green Bay where he was a stalwart against the pass and the run for more than a decade. In fact, he became the first defensive back in NFL history to join the career 20 sack/20 interception club.
Butler’s 721 solo tackles are the most in the history of the Packers franchise, while his 38 interceptions are tied for 4th most in Green Bay history with Charles Woodson. A four-time first team All-Pro selection, Butler was an integral part of turning the Packers from one of the league’s worst teams in 1990 to Super Bowl 31 champs in 1996. In recognition of his accomplishments, not only has Butler been inducted into the Green Bay Hall of Fame, he was also named one of the starting safeties on the 1990s NFL All-Decade team.
But perhaps his most recognizable legacy is being the originator of the famous Lambeau Leap. Can someone get this man in the NFL Hall of Fame already?