Retirement a 'celebration' for Butler

Linebacker Nate Wayne was celebrating a touchdown early in the Green Bay Packers' divisional playoff game against the St. Louis Rams last January. When he grabbed LeRoy Butler, who was watching on the sideline, the veteran safety realized that he may be retiring from football sooner than he thought.<p>

His broken left shoulder was still tender from a hit that he took two months earlier against the Atlanta Falcons, sending him permanently to the sideline. In the ensuing months, Butler's shoulder continued to heal but he also prepared himself mentally in case he had to step away from football.

I said 'Oh, my.' It was still kind of swollen," Butler recalled. "Right then I started thinking that it's a possibility."

After undergoing X-rays of the left shoulder on July 5, team physician Dr. Patrick McKenzie revealed a few days later that the shoulder was not completely healed. Furthermore, Butler would put himself at risk of damaging the shoulder to the point where it would limit him from normal activities that many take for granted if he played football this season.

That's when Butler made the decision to retire and celebrate a career that could place him the Pro Football Hall of Fame some day.

"This isn't very emotional because it's a celebration for me," Butler said at an afternoon press conference today. "In the real world, I'm a young man, 33, 34 tomorrow. In dog years and football, you're old. It's a celebration. I don't want anybody to be sad. I want everybody to be happy. That's what it's all about."

Butler suffered his career-ending injury Nov. 18 when he fractured his left scapula while tackling Atlanta Falcons running back Maurice Smith midway through the second quarter. The scapula is a bone that houses the socket part of the shoulder joint.

"The pieces were all in pretty good position and we decided that the best way to treat it was to allow this thing to heal on its own," said McKenzie. "The surgical trauma to get to the piece would have been pretty hard on his shoulder and would have made it difficult for him to return."

McKenzie explained that one part of the fracture healed well, which allows him to golf and exercise. But there are still a few parts of the fracture that enter into the actual socket part of shoulder joint that have not healed.

"The worry is if he takes another hit like he took, which he takes all the time ... it wasn't a drastic hit or a hit that he would never have again, that the socket would blow apart again," Butler said. "At that point, it would make it very difficult to fix his shoulder. My recommendation to him was that there is no way to take that risk. It wouldn't be worth it. The thought of letting him try to play, and if we were wrong and he hurt his shoulder worse, could wind up with a shoulder that would take away things that he would like to do the rest of his life.

"It was a very hard decision to make from an emotional standpoint because he has been so great around here. From a solid, medical thinking standpoint to take the risk on his shoulder was fairly easy to decide."

Butler met with coach and general manager Mike Sherman a few days later. The two discussed Butler's future, but Butler told Sherman it was best for him to step away from football. Butler has played for the Packers his entire career, since he was selected in the second round of the 1990 NFL draft by then-general manager Tom Braatz and coach Lindy Infante. Since then Butler has played in 181 games, more than any other defensive back in team history. He had played in 116 straight games before his injury. He finishes with 38 career interceptions and 20 career sacks.

"It was a very emotional time for me, even more than it was for him, when I realized that the loss of his services were a possibility," Sherman said. "I was very disappointed, but I didn't try to talk him out of it because he has a beautiful family, a long life to live. As I told him, his life is more than just being a football player. He's a complete package. He will be missed by all of us."

Butler's wife, Rhodesia, his agent Gene Burrough, financial advisor James Kelly and marketing advisor Joe Sweeney were sitting next to the podium while Butler spoke. Butler thanked various coaches who helped him at all levels of his career and many people in the Packers organization.

Butler smiled all the way through his speech. He said he plans to take some time off, but will serve as a consultant for the Packers and help upcoming safeties Antuan Edwards, Marques Anderson and Scott Frost in any way he can. Butler said he would like to be a head coach some day and will gladly start at the high school level before handling the "big boys." He said that there is a possibility that he may return in a year if "the opportunity presents itself. Who knows?," Butler said.

The Packers gave Butler and his wife a set of golf clubs and trophies as gifts.

Wayne's jolt in that forgettable playoff game set the wheels in motion for him to put a lid on a memorable career in Green Bay.

"I already dealt with the ins and outs of it," Butler said. "I'm fine with it. That's why I say it's a celebration for me."

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