Who is Malcolm Butler, anyway?
During the media opportunities last week leading up to what will be one of the most talked-about Super Bowls in history, hardly any of the 5,500 reporters from around the world said a word to him.
That same sort of disregard led Butler to make a play that will resound for ages, preserving a New England Patriots’ 28-24 Super Bowl victory in the waning seconds.
And now, a player who hardly registered on anyone’s radar is on everyone’s mind.
Never mind that Seattle coach Pete Carroll made one of the most unconscionable play calls from the Patriots’ 1 yard line, electing to ignore the NFL’s No 1 touchdown-maker in Marshawn Lynch and instead opt for a pass. That was silly and surely neither he nor any of the Seahawks will be able to get that feeling out of their gut for some time. But they’re only sick because the play happened and Butler (cheesy cliché’ alert) did it.
“We call him ‘Scrap’ because the first time we saw him he was just so scrappy and he found himself around the ball all the time,” defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. “I think that was one of the main reasons he was in the game. Throughout the course of the year, he shows up at practice and he makes plays.
“With that moment, with him making that play, it’s just a fairy-tale end for him because of what he’s done all year for us. To be a rookie and basically win the ball game for us, that’s amazing.”
That he was even on the roster was pretty amazing, too. Butler was not drafted. He played at tiny West Alabama, a Division II school located in some place called Livingston, Ala., population 3,506. Expect a street to be named after him there soon.
And he’d deserve it. Not just for the play that won the Super Bowl. But for being in the NFL at all.
Butler is from Vicksburg, Miss., where a third of the 27,000 residents live below the poverty line.
Out of high school, he played at Hinds Community College…and was kicked off the team after five games.
With little recourse, he worked at Popeye’s Chicken while taking summer classes at Alcorn State. Eventually he was invited back to the team and then moved on to West Alabama, where he flourished. But he was ignored during the NFL Draft.
Still, he earned a roster spot on the Patriots, played in 11 games and made his first interception of his NFL career Sunday in the most dramatic fashion.
“I always knew that I could play in this league,” Butler said. “Dedication and hard work. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s what you do when you get here.”
Butler has arrived. He’s no longer an unknown. He’s not unproven, either. He’s just undaunted. Two plays before his heroic effort, he was beaten on a miraculous catch by Jermaine Kearse that put Seattle in winning position at the 5-yard line.
“To see (Kearse) catch it, it was devastating,” Butler said. “I came out after that play. I went to the sideline, I wasn’t feeling too well, but my teammates tried to cheer me up. They said I was going to make a play.”
How prophetic they were. He jumped the route on Wilson’s pass to Ricardo Lockette and intercepted the ball. The emotions from both sides flip-flopped in seconds. And Butler was a hero.
“I remembered the formation they were in, two receivers stacked, I just knew they were going to [a] pick route,” Butler said. “I just beat him to the route and just made the play.”
That’s who Malcolm Butler is: He makes things happen. Against an impoverished backdrop, he fulfilled his athletic promise, even if few believed he would. He took a difficult route first to the NFL, then to the Super Bowl and finally to stardom. For those heartbroken by the Seahawks defeat, take solace in that the man who made the play for the Patriots earned his way to this moment. His moment.