GREEN BAY, Wis. – On Dec. 26, 1993, star Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler started one of the NFL’s endearing and enduring traditions. Butler took a lateral from Reggie White, raced into the end zone and jumped into the stands on the south end of Lambeau Field.
The Lambeau Leap was born. From Robert Brooks to Davante Adams, numerous Packers players have joined the fans to celebrate hundreds of touchdowns. When the NFL cracked down on touchdown celebrations in 2000, the Lambeau Leap was grandfathered into the rules. Fads come and go but the Lambeau Leap has been going strong for more than a quarter-century.
“I do my ‘Butler vs. Bullying’ campaign,” Butler said on Wednesday. “Probably three, four years ago at a school in Racine, one of the questions was, ‘What would it take for guys not to do the Leap?’ I said, ‘It’d have to be something that we’ve never seen before because guys love doing it and the fans love it. It’d have to be something unprecedented.’ The kids all laughed. We all laughed about it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is that unprecedented factor that could spell the end of the Lambeau Leap.
Under a plan shared with team presidents on Tuesday, the first six to eight rows of seating in every stadium -- including on-field suites -- will be off limits to fans this season. That move is officially to protect players, coaches and team staff from coronavirus exposure, but it would also free up that space to become lucrative sponsorship assets.
Sources said those seats will be covered by tarps that could include sponsor logos, similar to how EPL teams repurposed empty seating sections for ads during its return to play last week. The plan will be presented to owners at a meeting tomorrow.
Butler said he understands the league’s thinking.
“Obviously, the fans being there is what it’s all about. I want the fans to be safe,” he said. “(The players) will be protected. We’ve got the beat health care. I don’t want the fans to get sick. If they can’t be safe, then I wouldn’t want fans there. So, I’m OK with it. I’m OK with it because this has affected everybody.”
The advertising will help partially offset the decrease in ticket and concession revenue as teams almost certainly will play games at less than full capacity – or perhaps in front of no fans at all.
The lack of the Leap, Butler believed, could impact the team’s tremendous home-field advantage. Since the start of the 2009 season, the Packers are 67-19-2 (.630 winning percentage) at Lambeau Field. Only New England (.685) has been better at home. He jokingly suggested that two players be allowed to Leap in 2021 for make up for the absence of Leaps for this season.
“I know it was very demoralizing to the opponent when they see us do it,” Butler said. “It’s a real home-field advantage. I’ve talked to some of the guys around the league and they said, ‘All we talk about is stopping y’all from doing the Leap because we don’t want the crowd to get into it.’”