It was not supposed to happen like this. Malcolm Butler was an afterthought on draft day 2014, having played college football at Division-II’s West Alabama University after stints at Hinds Community College, Alcorn State and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.
The then-24-year old did not hear his name called. Not on day one. Not on day two. Not on day three. Not until the New England Patriots called and subsequently signed him as an undrafted free agent.
It was not supposed to happen like this. New England was in the middle of re-shaping its defensive secondary. The team spent considerable amounts of money on getting quality free agents Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to Foxboro, to compete with the likes of veterans Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard and second-year man Logan Ryan.
In short, the team was stacked at cornerback. Still, the undrafted rookie out of West Alabama had a solid offseason and at times was able to display why the team brought him in – earning the nickname "Straps" in the process. He did enough to get a spot on the Patriots’ 53-man roster.
Butler played 11 games during the regular season and two postseason games prior to February 1, 2015. He was unspectacular over the course of the season – but still on the 46-man game-day roster on Super Bowl Sunday, as the team carried only five cornerbacks at that time. Malcolm Butler was one of them.
It was not supposed to happen like this. Originally, Butler was not meant to play too big of a role against the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks. Then, slot cornerback Kyle Arrington was beat deep. And again. And again. Ultimately, the team decided to try its luck with the undrafted rookie instead of the seven-year veteran, who just two weeks earlier was able to shut down one of the best pass catchers in the NFL.
Butler was asked to cover the Seahawks’ number two receiver, Jermaine Kearse. On Butler’s first target, Kearse gained six yards. One play later, Butler broke up a pass on 3rd down. He also was able to break up the next pass fired towards him, late in the fourth quarter with the Patriots up 28-24.
Three plays later, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson targeted Malcolm Butler again – and again, the rookie was able to get his hands on the football. It just didn't fall incomplete. Somehow, Kearse, lying on his back, was able to catch it on the deflection before he was pushed out of bounds at the five yard line.
It was not supposed to happen like this. Butler had his hands on the ball, he broke up the pass; but it was still caught. The cornerback watched the very next play from the sidelines. Running back Marshawn Lynch carried the football to the 1-yard line – with the seconds, the most valuable of all assets this late in a game, ticking away.
New England still had two timeouts left.
Head coach Bill Belichick didn’t elect to use one.
The team used their three-cornerback goal-line package – for the first time all season.
It was not supposed to happen like this. It should have been Kyle Arrington sprinting on the field after hearing his name called by safeties coach Brian Flores. However, with Butler taking Arrington’s spot in the third quarter, he also took his responsibilities to play on the team’s goal-line package.
As usual, Butler was supposed to cover Kearse. He didn’t line up across him, though, as Brandon Browner recognized the formation and knew what was going to happen: a pick play. It never happened, as Browner was able to jam Kearse at the snap, allowing Butler to sprint towards the football unobstructed.
It was not supposed to happen like this. Marshawn Lynch should have carried the ball. The Seahawks should have called a fade. Or a read-option play. Belichick should have called timeout.
Instead, Butler undercut the route ran by receiver Ricardo Lockette and intercepted Wilson’s pass at the goal line to give the Patriots possession with a mere 20 seconds left on the game clock. And, most importantly: their fourth Lombardi Trophy.
It was not supposed to happen like this. But it did. Malcolm Butler, rookie, undrafted, fifth on the depth chart, made one of the greatest plays in NFL history.