Every New Englander, Patriots fan or not, knows the likes of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. These household names have staked their claims as the top players in the National Football League, Brady as one of the greatest of all-time. One would have assumed these two players would have saved the game and sealed the victory for the Patriots. Even though they both had great games, the Patriots’ savior ended up being a little known player, one who did not even enter the game until the third quarter: Malcolm Butler.
Malcolm Butler? Exactly. Not too many New England Patriots fans knew of his existence prior to their Super Bowl win. Where did he come from?
As an undrafted player, Butler’s future in the league immediately stood in question. He did not go to a famous college, like Alabama or Notre Dame; in fact, he did not even play at a Division I college. According to the Patriots’ official website, he first attended Hinds Community College in Mississippi, and then transferred to a Division II school, West Alabama, where he shined in his two years there, compiling almost one-hundred tackles and seven interceptions.
Leave it to Bill Belichick to find this diamond in the rough. In fact, had it not been for the coaching changes throughout the game, Butler might not have played in the Super Bowl at all. According to ESPN, Malcolm Butler did not even enter the game until the 32nd defensive play for the Patriots, when the Patriot coaching staff realized they needed more height on the field to defend against Seattle’s tall wide receiver Chris Matthews.
As the game progressed, Butler began seeing much more playing time, playing a total of 18 defensive snaps. However, none served a more crucial role in the game than his last two snaps.
According to ESPN, on his 17th snap, Butler matched up against Jermaine Kearse. With little time left in the game, Seattle had no choice but to go for big plays. With a vertical route up the field, Kearse turned in an improbable catch on his back, with Butler in tight coverage.
Memories of David Tyree flashed through the minds of all Patriots fans: We would lose another Super Bowl because of an almost impossible catch.
Butler sat out the next play, where Marshawn Lynch got stuffed at the one yard line. Butler almost did not even go in for the last play. However, when the Patriots coaching staff saw Seattle’s personnel which included three wide receivers, Butler rushed in as a third cornerback, part of a late substitution.
Why did Seattle throw with arguably the best running back in the league at their disposal? We will never know. But, Butler, who got beat on his previous snap readied himself, determined not to get beat again.
Butler explained his thought process, in ESPN’s article “Little Known Malcolm Butler an unlikely hero for Patriots,” on the last play. “Goal line, preparation, the formation they were in with the two-receiver stack, I just knew they were throwing a pick route. It was on the line, we needed it, and I just beat him to the route and made the play” Butler explains.
He made a play; one of the largest plays in both Patriots’ and Super Bowl history. Many questioned making Tom Brady the MVP when they most likely would not have won without the interception. However, Brady had an impressive game as well, 74 percent completion rate, 328 yards and four touchdowns, cementing his selection as MVP.
But Brady recognized Butler’s big play. As part of receiving the MVP, Brady will receive a truck from Chevrolet. He decided to have Chevrolet give Butler the truck instead.
An unheralded rookie gets to keep the ball that sealed the game and receives a truck for free. Not too bad for an undrafted free agent.