GLENDALE, Ariz. — Malcolm Butler.

Malcolm Butler?

He is Ricky Sanders, Timmy Smith, Rod Martin, Mike Jones and Jim O’Brien all rolled into one.

Who are they?

Exactly. They are among the unlikely heroes in Super Bowl history, each making a play, or plays, that helped their teams win a championship.

Butler now joins them.


He is the 24-year-old young man who won the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots. Yes, Tom Brady was the MVP and Julian Edelman put on a performance for the ages, but it was Butler who won the game. Everyone saw it.

An undrafted free agent from the University of West Alabama – an NCAA Division II school in Livingston, Alabama – he cut in front of Ricardo Lockette to intercept a Russell Wilson pass at the goal line with 20 seconds remaining, preserving the Patriots’ 28-24 victory Sunday night over the defending champion Seattle Seahawks.

It was a stunning play in its moment, but it was one that Butler was ready for.

“I remembered the formation they were in and just knew they were running a pick route,” said Butler. “I knew it was on the line and we needed it. I just beat him to the route and just made the play.”

And in that instant, Malcolm Butler was introduced to the world.

He held the ball, stumbled out of the end zone and collapsed the to ground. “I was so emotional,” said Butler. “I had a feeling I was going to make a big play. And I did.”


Maybe it came as a surprise to everyone else – after all, Butler didn’t get into the game until the third quarter when the Patriots put him in with the hope of shutting down Seattle’s downfield passing game – but it didn’t surprise the Patriots.

They’ve seen him do this before, in practice and in games. They’ve seen him make plays.

“He’s a ballplayer,” said linebacker Jamie Collins. “And sometimes it takes a ballplayer to make plays.”

He also epitomizes many of the Patriots’ success stories. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who celebrated his 31st birthday Sunday, was waived four times by the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins before finding a home in New England. He finished with six tackles and one of New England’s three sack.

Edelman was a quarterback at Kent State but was converted to a punt returner and receiver when the Patriots drafted him in the last round of the 2009 draft. He’s now one of the best slot receivers in the game and caught nine passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, despite nearly getting his head ripped off several times.

And then there was Butler. The Patriots, he said, “were the only team that gave me a chance. I’m glad they did.”


So are they. He finished the Super Bowl with three tackles. But more important, he broke up three passes. He gave the Patriots’ secondary life when it was struggling. He gave the secondary its swagger back after Chris Matthews – zero career catches going into the game, four catches for 109 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl – had taken it from them.

Safety Devin McCourty had seen it before.

“The guy makes plays,” said McCourty. “Whether it be the first (organized team activities), practice, playoffs, regular season, the Super Bowl, he just goes and plays. He stood out as soon as he came here, making plays left and right.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys who have played a lot of years in this league, All-Pros and Pro Bowls, and the guy’s making plays all season, (and we said) we’re going to be able to use him. And to make his first career interception to end the Super Bowl, it speaks volumes of the guy’s character. He keeps playing and he loves opportunity. I’m proud of him.”

Two plays before his interception, Butler thought he had lost the game.

With New England leading 28-24, Wilson threw deep to Jermaine Kearse streaking down the right sideline. Butler leaped and tipped the ball at its high point. But as Kearse fell to the ground, the ball hit his leg and dropped into his arms for a miraculous catch that gave Seattle a first down at the Patriots 5.


Instead of being devastated, Butler buckled down.

After Marshawn Lynch gained four yards to the 1, the Seahawks came out with two wide receivers double-stacked to the right.

Butler knew a pick play was coming. So he stepped inside the pick and jumped the route, beating Lockette to the spot and saving the game.

“It feels great,” he said. “I always knew I could play in this league. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It’s what you do when you get here.”

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