After the Green Bay Packers lit up the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 11, and with a Christmas night tilt against the Bears upon us, it's even easier to reflect on that very first Lambeau Leap that took place during a 28-0 shutout of the then-Los Angeles Raiders on Dec. 26, 1993.
Has it really been 18 years since safety LeRoy Butler went airborne in Lambeau Field's south end zone after his first career touchdown and created the most historic scoring celebration ever seen? It doesn't seem that long ago for Butler, who still gets to revel in it on a regular basis.
"Five minutes ago, I was pumping gas and someone brought it up," Butler said in a recent interview. "Happens all the time."
But if the Ghost of Christmas Past was on hand, he'd remind you that much has changed since December 1993. Bill Clinton was president, gas was $1.16, "Cheers" was in its final season and Bryan Adams was begging "Please Forgive Me" on the radio. That all sounds pretty good ... though "Summer of 69" and "Only Love" with Tina Turner were way better Adams songs. But I digress. A glance at the rosters of the teams playing that day probably provides as much perspective as anything.
Starting at right outside linebacker in the Raiders' 4-3 defense was current Packers inside linebackers coach Winston Moss. Lionel Washington, who coached the Packers' cornerbacks from 1999 through 2008, was roaming the Silver and Black's defensive backfield. At defensive end was Fox pregame analyst Howie Long, playing in the final year of his Hall of Fame Raiders career. Of course, the Packers had their own Hall of Famer in the late, great defensive end Reggie White, who was instrumental to the history. Sadly, White died unexpectedly 11 years to the day after that game on Dec. 26, 2004. Raiders Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chester McGlockton also passed away earlier this year.
Packers fullback Edgar Bennett, who scored that game's first touchdown on a 1-yard run, had a perfect view of the play and the Leap from the sideline that day. It's the same view he'll have this week from the sideline when he's coaching Green Bay's receivers.
"Amazing," recalled Bennett. "Back then, the walls were a little bit higher so you had to have a pretty good vertical jump to get up there. It was a phenomenal play, and then to jump into the stands, I thought that was just unbelievable."
It already was shaping up to be a memorable day. The Raiders had nine wins and were facing and 8-6 Green Bay team in search of its first playoff berth (not counting the strike-shortened year of 1982) in 21 years. Oh, and it was minus-3 with a wind-chill of minus-22, making it the coldest game at Lambeau Field since the Ice Bowl. It remains the third-coldest behind the 2007 NFC Championship Game vs. the New York Giants.
"Oh, man, I remember talking to some of the guys from (Los Angeles) before the game and joking that the field was frozen and that when they left home it was like 60 degrees," Butler said. "I said, 'Well, you guys can go back and surf, we have to stay in this igloo in Wisconsin. And I can remember looking at some of those guys and they just really did not want to be there. It was just freezing cold."
LeRoy Butler's first Lambeau Leap started a tradition.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Evans took the snap from under center and got blitzed by outside linebacker Tony Bennett. As Evans rolled to his right, he saw running back Randy Jordan in the flat and fired a pass to him. Jordan turned and jumped to make the catch, barely getting his feet down before being leveled by Butler, who stripped the ball as he rolled over him. White picked up the bouncing pigskin at the 34 and rumbled down the Raiders' sideline for 10 yards. As Pro Bowl guard Steve Wisniewski tried to pull White down out of bounds, he spotted Butler, who had gotten up and was chasing the play. White lateraled the ball to Butler, who sprinted to the end zone.
Had Butler tossed the ball to the official, spiked it or even carried it back to the sideline, this 28-0 shutout would get talked about for the frigid weather and nothing else. After all, as great as the play was, defensive touchdowns happen every week of every NFL season. Instead, Butler froze the moment in time. As he ran through the back of the end zone, he dropped the ball and pointed to a group of fans bundled in jackets and stocking hats sitting in the first row. What happened next was unlike anything anyone had seen in 75 years of scoring touchdowns in the NFL. Butler catapulted himself into the arms of waiting fans.
"Never. Never, never, never," Butler said when asked if he'd ever considered anything like that. "But it went through my head that I better let these people know that a 200-pound guy with a frozen helmet is about to launch himself into the crowd. I'll never forget the guy who caught me. He had a beer in his hand, in a cup or something, and I just remember him saying when I jumped up there, he said he had to throw it away to catch me and he said that I owed him a beer. That's the one thing I remember.
"And I remember Coach Holmgren coming over to me and saying, 'What in the world was that?' and I was like, 'I don't know.' I really don't.'"
Butler's leap didn't quite land him in the first row. He got pulled up the rest of the way. After a few seconds of warming up, his feet were back on the ground. He picked up the ball and pointed to the crowd as he jogged toward the Packers' sideline. After hugs from defensive tackle John Jurkovic and Favre, he did an impromptu high-step dance while cornerback Doug Evans gave him a congratulatory slap to the helmet.
But the play itself, let alone what came after, almost didn't happen.
"There was a delay, because the referee didn't know if it was a fumble or what and this was before replay," Butler said, knowing that in today's league, the play most definitely would've been reviewed and possibly reversed. "And they could've easily said incomplete, but I knew... once, I think it was Randy Jordan that caught that ball, I knew.. I sniffed a little screen. I sniffed it out, and as soon as he caught it, I hit him and that's what made the ball just kind of go everywhere."
While the jump in the stands was completely spontaneous, taking that lateral from White was something in the back of Butler's mind.
"I knew Reggie when he was in Philly. If one of their lineman would get an interception or a fumble, they would toss it to like (cornerback) Eric Allen or some of these other guys," Butler said. "They'd just try and toss it right to them and they would run with it. And I remembered that, so that's what made me run towards Reggie. I was like, 'Oh, I remember him pitching the ball when he was in Philly.' And as I ran, he saw me coming toward him and I saw him positioning the ball to lateral it. So, everybody else was stunned. They didn't know where the ball was or they didn't know if there was a fumble or not, but at that point, Reggie had already started running and then once I started running toward Reggie he lateraled the ball and the rest was history."
While Butler made that first leap, it would be one of only two career touchdowns he'd score. It was teammate Robert Brooks who would popularize it in 1994 and more so in 1995, when he led the Packers with 102 receptions for 1,497 yards and 13 scores. He'd even write a song about it in 1996, when the team was on its way to Super Bowl XXXI. All told, Brooks scored 32 times during his seven-year Packers career. And at Lambeau Field, he never missed an opportunity to reward fans holding a bullseye or 'jump here' sign.
"We made the playoffs that year ('93), but the following year, the players were still talking about it. Guys were like, ‘You know, when I score, I'm going to jump in there like LeRoy did.' That was fun." Butler said.
Eighteen years later, the Lambeau Leap is synonymous with the Packers and their fans. As much a part of the fabric of the team as the field they play on or the color of their uniforms. And It remains, as it was that very first time, the ultimate present to the sport's most dedicated fan base.
"It's showing the love to your fans," Butler said. "You don't have to have a 50-yard line seat. You can be right there in that north or south end zone and, who knows, you may catch an Aaron Rodgers or Ahman Green or Robert Brooks or Antonio Freeman. People still talk about that. It's just awesome."
If all goes well, some fans in the front row of the north and south end zones will have a few more gifts to put their arms around Sunday night. Just watch out for your beer.
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave publisher Bill Huber a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.