JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A homegrown talent who beat the odds and is now being added to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 is spending time here in Jacksonville. Duval County is LeRoy Butler’s hometown.
Butler traveled back to Jacksonville to share his story with Action News Jax Anchor Dawn Lopez.
In 1993, Butler ran the ball for one of the most famous plays ever. He celebrated his first defensive touchdown in his NFL career, in the open arms of screaming Green Bay Packers fans. That’s when a tradition was born -- the first ever “Lambeau Leap.” But what we witnessed was more than a great play.
“I could never run and jump and be coordinated like the other kids,” Butler said. “I was so pigeon toed. “I literally walked like a pigeon or a penguin.”
At 8 years old, still confined to a wheelchair with braces on his leg, Butler vowed to his mom, he would one day make it to the pros. He would one day live out his wildest dream. And it happened -- starting with a mishap at the bottom of the stairs at his family’s apartment in the Blodgett Home Projects.
“My sister came downstairs and we collided, my braces broke,” Butler said.
Butler said those braces were donated to his family by then-Hope Haven Children’s Hospital. His family couldn’t afford another pair. So he painstakingly walked. Practiced standing upright, feet forward. Butler said it’s his greatest miracle.
He would one day join elementary school children on the playground, then football field.
He would eventually play football for Ft. Caroline Middle School
Coach Hammond Gracy said early on, he saw greatness in Butler.
“It was his attitude. Like, ‘I know my teammates are bigger and stronger, but they’re not going to out work me,’” Gracy said.
Butler is grateful to his former coaches and teachers. For years he’s sent them tickets at will call, whether he played for Bobby Bowden’s team at Florida State, or in Green Bay with the Packers.
“I was shocked in 2003 when he had someone come interview and put me in his book,” said Deanne Gordon, his math teacher and tutor from what was then known as Lee High School.
Gordon said Butler taught her some valuable lessons in kindness and giving back.
“It means the world to me,” she said. “It’s the highest compliment you can get. He has shown me gratitude, given me honor and respect. Most don’t come back and say anything.”
Butler believes that’s the least he can do.
“Coach Bowden, Coach Rogers, Coach Barrett, my wife, kids ... if it wasn’t for these people, they never get mentioned. Without them, there would be no LeRoy Butler,” he said.
The only person who will be missing at the Hall of Fame ceremony is Butler’s mom. She died in 2016.
“Dawn, I’ll tell you this. Me and my mom, she said after I won the Super Bowl, ‘If you ever get in the Hall of Fame, let’s work on your speech,” Butler said.
Butler’s focus before he’s officially inducted into the Hall of Fame is creating a line of cookware. He enjoys time in the kitchen showing off his culinary skills. But he also wants to create programs to honor and reward everyday heroes for a good job in the classroom -- educators.
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