LeRoy Butler's warning to Bowden: 'You'll see a lot of men outside the 7-11. Don't stop.'

Bobby Bowden would have become LeRoy Butler's Pro Football Hall of Fame host had he survived the honor.
Butler shudders when he thinks about where his life would have gone had Bowden not brought him to the state of Florida.
Leroy Butler at Lee High School in 1985.
"I was a Prop 48," Butler said in an interview with The Canton Repository, using an old term for academic risk. “Coach Bowden was allowed to visit me at home once, and he decided to go to the projects in Jacksonville and see me. That saved my life.”
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Bowden is the second-ranked major college football coach, largely due to his 1976-2009 run at Florida State. He's more "just a name" in Ohio State/Big Ten country, but he was a central figure in a powerful story that took place near home.
On November 14, 1970, a plane full of Marshall University players, coaches and boosters was approaching the airport in Huntington, West Virginia when it crashed into a hillside, killing all 75 passengers.
The flight was returning from a game in East Carolina the same day Bowden's West Virginia Mountaineers were playing at Morgantown. Among the dead was Marshall head coach Rick Tolley, who had been hired in 1969 amid rumors the job would go to Bowden.
Instead, Bowden stayed on as West Virginia coordinator in 1969 and was promoted to head coach in 1970.
After the crash, Bowden proposed a tribute. His West Virginia team would dress in Marshall uniforms and play the season finale against Ohio University. The request was denied, but the gesture was remembered for a long time.
Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden looks at the replay screen during his final game against West Virginia at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in the Gator Bowl January 1, 2010.
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Bowden lived a long life as a head coach that stretched to Butler's doorstep in Jacksonville, Florida.
Bowden recalled the visit during a radio interview on January 5, 2021, and came to 1250 AM Milwaukee as a surprise phone call. Butler was a studio guest.
"When I first saw LeRoy, he was playing a basketball game," Bowden said. "An assistant who followed LeRoy wanted me to see what a great athlete he was. And he was.
“I don't know how many 3-point shots he could take. Defense was his thing. He would overtake you.
"The next step was to go to his house and meet his mother and talk to him at his house. LeRoy told me beforehand, 'Coach, if you come to see me, you'll drive past this 7-11 store . There will be many men up ahead. Don't stop."
LeRoy Butler poses for a portrait with his Super Bowl ring at his home in Jacksonville, Florida July 12, 2007.
Bowden, Butler and the radio host all laughed, but it was a serious reference to "the projects," as Butler calls them, and the criminal environment he was hoping to escape.
Notre Dame, USC and others backed down after Butler was identified as "Prop 48."
He joined Bowden at Florida State, grateful but not eligible to play as a freshman. When the team went on road trips, Butler would find his way to the airport with congratulations. He would drive to the airport alone to welcome the team home.
Bowden would notice and giggle. A lifelong bond sealed early on.
Bowden's son told the repository earlier this summer Butler is far more to his dad than just another former star player.
"He was one of my dad's favorite players," said Terry Bowden, the former Akron head coach who is now the Louisiana Monroe head coach. "I know I heard Dad talk to LeRoy like a son, and I'm a son. And I know thousands of players, but LeRoy was the one he talked about like a son and he was so proud of LeRoy.
“The impact dad had on players' lives off the field is far more important than any impact he had on the field and I think that's why LeRoy wanted it when he introduced him. My dad would have loved the opportunity to do that.”
Butler played the first of his two years as a starter at Florida State in 1988.
"We started the season at number one with a game in Miami," said Bowden. "They beat us 31-0. We were too confident."
A chance for redemption came in the ACC opener at No. 3 Clemson.
It was 21-21 with a few minutes left not long after Florida State's Deion Sanders returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown. Clemson forced a punt with three minutes remaining. Except it wasn't a punt. A quick snap went from a teammate to Butler, who, while the coverage team sprinted right as a decoy, took off to the left and ran 78 yards.
Florida State's Dayne Williams (left) slides the ball between LeRoy Butler's legs after he took the snap with a fake punt in the final minutes against Clemson on September 17, 1988. Butler launched for the Clemson 1 for a 78-yard gain.
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It became known as Puntrooskie. It ended with Butler needing oxygen and gassing when he was caught on the 1. As a cornerback, he made 14 tackles that day.
Within months of the 1988 Seminoles going 11-1, Sanders finished fifth overall in the 1989 NFL draft. In his other sport, Sanders was the first batter in the history of Canton's Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium while playing for an offshoot of the New York Yankees against the Canton Indians.
The 1989 Florida State football team was tied 0-2 before winning their last 10 games. Butler made seven interceptions in a team that went 10-2. The Packers picked him in the second round of the 1990 draft.
In 1992, Butler asked Green Bay's human resources department to consider drafting his former high school and college teammate Edgar Bennett. The year they won a Super Bowl together, Bennett said, "He's like my big brother."
Bowden kept in touch. When they ended up together at the Milwaukee radio station in 2021, Bowden had been ill.
"How is your health?" asked Butler.
"I'm pretty weak," Bowden said, "but I'm not hurt."
"That's good," said Butler. "How is your family?"
Bowden took the opportunity to share some little-known football history.
"I'm from Alabama," Bowden said. “I wanted to train in Alabama. In 1987 I thought they would give me the job... and I would leave."
Butler, a Florida freshman in 1987, is grateful Bowden stayed.
Alabama's new coach in 1987 was Bill Curry, who lasted three years until the Crimson Tide offered the job to Bowden, who decided to stay at Florida State.
Bowden coached the Seminoles during the 2009 season when he was 80 years old.
After eight seasons under Jimbo Fisher and two under Willie Taggert, the job was open again in 2020. Before going to Mike Norvell, Butler championed a former teammate and veteran Bowden player, Deion Sanders.
There's still a lot of Bobby Bowden and Florida State in LeRoy Butler as he enters the Hall of Fame.
Reach Steve at steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com
On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Hall of Famer LeRoy Butler joined Bobby Bowden in Florida State
Bobby Bowden
American football player and coach
Deion Sander
American athlete

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