CANTON, Ohio (AP) — LeRoy Butler entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the same enthusiasm he celebrated big games at Lambeau Field.
The four-time All-Pro safety was the first of eight members of the Class of 2022 enshrined Saturday at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
“DJ Khaled said it best: ‘God made it,'” Butler began, referencing the song. “When you play for the Green Bay Packers, many doors open. When you win a Super Bowl, more doors open. When you’re selected for the Hall of Fame, football heaven opens. This is a 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, who grew up poor, she made us think rich every day because it’s not what you wear or what you have, it’s how you act.”
Butler helped restore Green Bay to its glory days during a 12-year career. His versatility as a safety set the standard for a new wave in that position and earned him a spot on the 1990s league All-Decade team.
Butler is behind the “Lambeau Leap” and had a key sack in Green Bay’s Super Bowl victory over New England. He nearly became 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 make it to the NFL.
Mills played Division III college football and was undrafted. He was eliminated by the Cleveland Browns and Toronto Argonauts of the CFL and began his professional career with the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL. 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 pro football and at the age of 27 he wasn’t young enough to play in the NFL and yet we celebrate today,” said Melanie Mills, Sam’s widow.
Mills had 1,265 tackles, recovered 23 fumbles, forced 22 fumbles, had 20 1/2 sacks and intercepted 11 passes in 12 seasons. He was also on the first four playoff teams in Saints history and the first in Panthers history.
Mills became an assistant coach for the Panthers after retiring. He was diagnosed with bowel cancer before the 2003 season, but continued to coach during his treatment and gave what is known as his “Keep Beating” speech on the eve of the club’s Super Bowl game with New England at the end of this season.
Mills died in April 2005 at the age of 45. His “Keep pounding” remains the Panthers’ slogan.
In a year without first-ballot candidates, inductees endured long waits to get to 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 to the defensive mainstays of those teams but didn’t mention Tom Brady by name.
“We had a young quarterback, but we made it work,” Seymour said, prompting laughter from the crowd.
Seymour had 57 1/2 career sacks in 12 seasons, the first eight in New England before ending his career with the Oakland Raiders.
“I’m overwhelmed with humility because it’s not about what it says about me but what it says about us and what we can do together,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude because I didn’t come here alone. None of us did. None of us could have done it.
Seymour, 42, choked up as he thanked his wife, Tanya.
“Football is what I do, but family is what I am,” he said. “Thank you for all you have added to my life. This day belongs to my family. The scriptures teach that your riches are in your family.
Seymour called her three children “her greatest joy”.
“Of all I’ve accomplished, there’s no greater honor than being your father,” he said.
Seymour congratulated Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former Raiders owner Al Davis and his son, Mark Davis.
He attributed his success to lessons he learned from Patriots coach Bill Belichick: work hard, be thorough in your preparation, support your teammates and respect your opponents.
“It wouldn’t have happened without Coach Belichick,” Seymour said.
Longtime Head of Arbitration Art McNally delivered a video speech after being inducted as a contributor.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL