If any athlete is lucky, there will be one play that defines their career and has them remembered by at least one fan base. But for former Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler, well, he is more than lucky. While at Florida State University, Butler had one of the most famous plays in program history, and then created one of the most historic celebrations in sports history once he got to the National Football League.
Though he began his life wearing leg braces and spent his childhood in a wheelchair, Butler created some of the most influential moments of any football player throughout the 1980s and 90s. As a cornerback, it wouldn’t be a common thing for Butler to have a football in his hands, but the two most memorable plays of his career ended with him doing just that.
FSU Puntrooskie vs. Clemson
Dozens of memorable plays have taken place in the history of Florida State Seminoles football, but Butler may have the best when head coach Bobby Bowden called his number back in 1988.
Even though Butler had a solid career as a three-year starter at defensive back, intercepting nine passes during his time in Tallahassee, it was a trick play on special teams that FSU fans will always remember during his college football career.
The tenth-ranked Seminoles were tied at 21 points a piece with the third-ranked Clemson Tigers late in the fourth quarter. With less than two minutes left, Bowden took a huge risk on the road in Death Valley from his own 21-yard line on fourth down.
Lined up in punt formation, the ball was snapped to upback Dayne Williams, who handed the ball to Butler between his legs and faked running an option to the right, pulling the entire defense with him. This gave Butler the opportunity to run the fake punt 78 yards down the sideline to set up the game-winning, 19-yard field goal.
The Puntrooskie is still one of the greatest trick plays in college football history.
Florida State would win the rest of their games that season, finishing with an 11-1 record and beating Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. Butler finished the 1988 season with two interceptions, one being returned for a touchdown. In 1989, he returned, intercepted seven passes in his final season with FSU, and was named a consensus All-American.
But his memorable moments weren’t over yet after being selected in the second round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.
Who Did the First Lambeau Leap?
The Green Bay Packers are one of the most famous American sports franchises in the world. And though the cheese heads, yellow helmets, and star quarterbacks are widely known, it may be a creation of Butler’s that is the most famous.
NFL referees have cracked down on a ton of end zone celebrations, but the Lambeau Leap is not one of them. In fact, it was Butler who began the tradition of jumping into the crowd at Lambeau Field after scoring a touchdown.
The day after Christmas in 1993, the Packers hosted the Los Angeles Raiders. In the fourth quarter, with Green Bay leading, 14-0, Butler forced a fumble by Randy Jordan. The ball was picked up by defensive end Reggie White, who then lateraled the ball back to Butler at the Raiders’ 25-yard line.
After scoring his first defensive touchdown of his NFL career, Butler pointed to some fans in the south end zone and jumped up towards them, though he didn’t actually get into the stands. The leap only reached outstretched arms of the fans, beginning what is now one of the best and most famous touchdown celebrations in football history, which Packers players still use today.
Although the leap was made famous by wide receiver Robert Brooks, it was Butler who did it the first time.
His only other Lambeau Leap came during the 1998 season and is just one of three defensive players to have more than one chance at the celebration.
Butler finished the 1993 season with 90 tackles, six interceptions, and two forced fumbles. That earned him his first Pro Bowl selections and First-Team All-Pro, something he would do three more times each. He was also part of Hall-of-Fame quarterback Brett Favre’s team that won Super Bowl XXXI in 1996. Butler forced 13 fumbles during his 12-year career with the Packers and had 10 fumble recoveries. He was named to the 1990s NFL All-Decade Team.
As the first defensive back in NFL history to enter the 20 sack and 20 interception club, it is no surprise he was elected into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2007, just five years after he was forced to retire from a shoulder injury after tackling Atlanta Falcons running back Jamal Anderson.
Butler was one of the best FSU and Green Bay defenders to ever play, but it’s two plays, and one iconic celebration, that define his legacy.
This article was originally published September 11, 2019.
UPDATE (February 20, 2020): The Wisconsin Assembly declared February 29, 2020 “LeRoy’s Leap Day” to honor the man gave Packers fans the ultimate celebration back in 1993.