CANTON, Ohio — LeRoy Butler leaped into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the same enthusiasm he celebrated big plays at Lambeau Field.
The four-time All-Pro safety was the first of eight members of the Class of 2022 enshrined Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
“DJ Khaled said it best: ‘God did,’” Butler began, referencing the song. “When you play for the Green Bay Packers, a lot of doors open up. When you win a Super Bowl, more doors open up. When you’re picked for the Hall of Fame, football heaven opens up. It’s rare company.”
Butler drew cheers from Jaguars fans in attendance to see Tony Boselli’s induction when he mentioned growing up in Jacksonville.
“Thank you, Duval,” Butler said. “My mom, growing up in poverty, she made us think rich every day because it’s not about what you have on or what you have, it’s how you act.”
Butler helped restore Green Bay’s glory days during a 12-year career. His versatility as a safety set the standard for a new wave at the position and earned him a spot on the league’s All-Decade team of the 1990s.
Butler originated the “Lambeau Leap” and had a key sack in Green Bay’s Super Bowl victory over New England. He fell just short of becoming the first player in league history to finish his career with 40 interceptions and 20 sacks.
Sam Mills, the 5-foot-9 linebacker nicknamed “Field Mouse” during his 12-year career with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, was inducted posthumously after Butler. An inspirational figure, Mills overcame tremendous odds to even reach the NFL.
Mills played Division III college football and was not drafted. He was cut by the Cleveland Browns and Toronto Argonauts of the CFL and began his professional career with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars. Jim Mora, who coached the Stars, brought him to New Orleans in 1986 and Mills never looked back.
“He was told he wasn’t good enough to play college football or big enough to play professional football and at the age of 27, he wasn’t young enough to play in the NFL and yet here we are today celebrating,” said Melanie Mills, Sam’s widow.
Mills made 1,265 tackles, had 23 fumble recoveries, forced 22 fumbles, had 20 1/2 sacks and intercepted 11 passes in 12 seasons. He also was part of the first four playoff teams in Saints history and the first in Panthers history.
Mills became an assistant coach with the Panthers after his retirement. He was diagnosed with intestinal cancer before the 2003 season but kept coaching during his treatment and made what is known as his “Keep pounding” speech on the eve of the club’s Super Bowl matchup with New England at the end of that season.
Mills died in April 2005 at age 45. His “Keep pounding” remains the Panthers’ tag line.
In a year with no first-ballot candidates, the inductees endured long waits to make the Hall.
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour didn’t wait too long to taste success in the NFL. He was part of three Super Bowl championship teams in his first four seasons with the New England Patriots.
Seymour pointed out the defensive stalwarts on those teams but didn’t mention Tom Brady by name.
“We had a young quarterback, but we made it work,” Seymour said, drawing chuckles from the crowd.
Seymour had 57 1/2 career sacks in 12 seasons, the first eight in New England before finishing his career with the Oakland Raiders.
“I’m overwhelmed with humility because it’s not about what this says about me but what it says about we and what we can do together,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude because I didn’t get here alone. None of us did. None of us could have.”
The 42-year-old Seymour choked up thanking his wife, Tanya.
“Football is what I do, but family is who I am,” he said. “Thank you for everything you added to my life. This day belongs to my family. Scripture teaches your riches are in your family.”
Seymour called his three children his “greatest joy.”
“Of everything I accomplished, there’s no greater honour than being your dad,” he said.
Seymour praised Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former Raiders owner Al Davis and his son, Mark Davis.
He credited his success to the lessons he learned from Patriots coach Bill Belichick: work hard, be meticulous in your preparation, support your teammates and respect your opponents.
“This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Coach Belichick,” Seymour said.
Longtime head of officiating Art McNally gave a video speech after he was inducted as a contributor.