In the most heartwarming story of early 2015, Tom Brady, who already had a well stocked garage, said he would give his Super Bowl prize, a Chevy Colorado, to Malcolm Butler, the undrafted rookie whose interception made Brady’s award/reward possible.
“We’re going to figure out how to make that happen,” said the quarterback of the New England Patriots, whose gesture was not entirely unprompted. Some media voices had suggested it would be noble of him to give the truck to a teammate who deserves it and probably could use it.
Brady arranged for the truck to go directly from General Motors to Butler. That way, the quarterback avoided paying about $14,000 in federal income tax for a $35,000 vehicle, such is his bracket.
Even before Butler jumped the slant route of Ricardo Lockette, cutting in front of him for an interception that sealed the 28-24 Super Bowl victory, Patriot Nation had developed a fondness for the 5-11, 190-pound cornerback. His background could not be more endearing as the prototype underdog.
He formerly worked for Popeyes and was unwanted as a football player after leaving West Alabama, until the Patriots unexpectedly offered him a tryout last summer.
New England’s coaches and veteran players saw immediately that Butler had recognition skills and a solid work ethic. Brady insisted the Super Bowl interception was no surprise. “That’s the type of play Malcolm makes for our team. . . . He’s intercepted me a lot of times in practice.”
Butler told ESPN Boston that in practice for the Super Bowl, the scout team ran the fateful slant against him, “and I got beat. Bill (Belichick) told me, ‘You’ve got to be on that.’”
As the real play unfolded in the final 26 seconds of the Super Bowl, déjà vu struck Butler. And as he put it, “Memorization took over.”
He made other key plays in the game after replacing a struggling Kyle Arrington at the slot corner. Russell Wilson picked on Arrington in the third quarter as Seattle built a 24-14 lead. In the replay tape of the Super Bowl you hear Seattle players noting, “They benched 25. They got 21 in there now.”
It was No. 21, Butler, who had the presence of mind to push Jermaine Kearse out of bounds on the 5-yard line after the 33-yard pass that set up the forever-to-be famous pick.
Although Kearse made the catch, after five bobbles, many viewers assumed the ball had touched the ground, with the receiver on his back. Butler was alert to what happened.
His ensuing interception is a trademark. We saw that in Sunday night’s Grammys, when Butler and teammate Julian Edelman were tuxedoed presenters of one of the awards.
On cue, Butler reached out and “intercepted” the envelope that was being passed to the Hollywood actor Josh Duhamel.
Butler looked a bit nervous (“deer in the headlights,” wrote a reviewer) in his cameo role. It was as if he expected Belichick to ridicule him in a team meeting, as he probably will.
Legendary football scout Gil Brandt thinks Butler’s Super Bowl heroics were no fluke. He pointed out that Butler allowed completions on just 54.6% of the passes in his direction this season.
“I expect him to be a significant contributor for some time to come,” Brandt wrote for ESPN. He compared Butler’s recognition skills and hands to those of Everson Walls, who led the NFL in interceptions his first two years in the league.
Brandt is not so enchanted by another Super Bowl Cinderella: wide receiver Chris Matthews, who worked at Foot Locker before the Seahawks picked him up.
Matthews did not catch a pass all season but was limited to special teams. He first attracted attention when he recovered the onside kick near the end of the NFC Championship Game that set up Seattle’s winning touchdown.
That fortuitous play earned Matthews prime time in the Super Bowl, where his 6-5 height created matchup problems for New England’s secondary. Matthews caught four passes for 109 yards before Brandon Browner, 6-4, asked to cover him and proceeded to halt his production.
Brandt said Matthews is “not a good route runner.” He added: “Because he doesn’t have much speed, I expect his time in the sun might have come and gone.”
That’s a funny thing about Super Bowls. Usually somebody comes out of nowhere to be a star that soon becomes a fallen star. A David Tyree, a Mario Manningham. Seattle’s Malcolm Smith was MVP of the previous Super Bowl, and as a second-teamer made little impact in this one.
These Cinderella stories usually have no more than one chapter. We’ll see if Gil Brandt is right, as he has a long history of being, and Malcolm Butler gets a second act.