The Seattle Seahawks were dethroned and Malcolm Butler became a Super Bowl legend because the undrafted rookie cornerback trusted his instincts.
With Seattle 1 yard away from taking the lead and likely defending their title, Butler stepped in front of a Russell Wilson pass intended for Ricardo Lockette with 20 seconds to play. The interception sealed a 28-24 win for New England.
He knew something was up when the Seahawks stacked receivers on his side of the field. “They’re trying to get somebody open,” Butler said.
“I saw Wilson looking over there,” Butler said. “He kept his head still and just looked over there. So that gave me a clue, and the stacked receivers. I just knew they were going to throw. My instinct, I just went with it, just went with my mind and made the play.”
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick pointed out after the game that it’s “a long way from (the University of) West Alabama to the NFL.” And it’s even farther to Super Bowl hero.
Butler wasn’t drafted but earned a tryout with the Patriots. Belichick called him one of “the few, the proud, the free.”
He made the team and continued to impress coaches, steadily earning more playing time. “From OTAs (organized team activities) to minicamps, he had the most picks of anybody,” Patriots defensive back Brandon Browner said. “He showed the best ball skills of anyone.”
But during the season, he started just one game and didn’t have an interception until Sunday.
He sat out most of the first half but was ready when he went back in.
“I just didn’t want to be the reason that (we lost the game),” he said. “I just went out there and played football, played the best I could to help my team.
He deflected three passes, had three tackles and by the fourth quarter Belichick said he felt as if “Butler had the hot hand.” So he left him on the field.
And Butler knew as long as he was out there, Wilson was going to try to pick on him.
“I’m pretty sure he knows I’m a rookie,” Butler said. “And who wouldn’t try a rookie. I was ready.”
Moments before the big play, he was involved in another that looked as if it was going to tilt the game in the other direction.
Wilson launched a deep pass to Jermaine Kearse. Despite good coverage from Butler, Kearse made a bobbling 33-yard catch while lying on his back.
“I just had a jump ball on that play,” Butler said. “I made a great play on the ball and when I deflected (the ball), it remained in his hands. Just like any other play, I feel like the game was on me if we lost, but we had another play.”
The Patriots had seen this before. The New York Giants had twice rallied for Super Bowl titles with drives sparked by big catches. Both times, the Patriots didn’t have a player stand up to make the game-saving play.
To say his teammates were grateful is an understatement. As safety Patrick Chung answered questions at a nearby podium after the game, he shouted “I love you Malcolm Butler!”
“Props to him,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “I was on the sideline jumping for joy.”
As for the ball Butler stole from Lockette, he wasn’t about to let go of what’s sure to be the new centerpiece of his trophy case.
“I’m going to case it up somewhere,” Butler said. “That is my first interception and I thought I was going to have to wait until next season, but I finally got one.”