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2018 NFL free agency: Farewell to Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler

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For his third farewell tribute, The King turns to none other than the hero from Super Bowl XLIX.

AFC Championship - Jacksonville Jaguars v New England Patriots
No matter what happens, Malcolm Butler will always be a Boston sports legend.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I just finished watching the Michigan-Houston game from round two of the NCAA Tournament. In classic March Madness fashion, the game ended with Michigan freshman Jordan Poole burying a 3-pointer as time expired for a 64-63 win, preventing a second round upset and sending the Wolverines to the Sweet Sixteen.

In the immediate aftermath, TBS showed all kinds of camera shots of the Michigan players celebrating, running all over the court and screaming in sheer jubilation, while other cameras picked up shots of the Houston players as still as statues, unable to speak, move or think from the unbelievable shock and devastation. It was especially bad for Houston’s Devin Davis, who had just missed a pair of free throws with 3.6 seconds left that would’ve clinched the game for the Cougars.

How’s that for an epic punch to the gut, eh? It was so brutal/incredible that it reminded of another punch to the gut moment … actually, my favorite punch to the gut moment of my lifetime.

Let me set the mood real quick. Here’s Al Michaels …

“Play clock at five. The pass is … INTERCEPTED AT THE GOAL LINE … BY MALCOLM BUTLER! UN - REAL!”

Super Bowl XLIX. Glendale, Arizona. University of Phoenix Stadium. Patriots 28, Seahawks 24.

We will forever have that incredible memory because of one person: Malcolm Butler, who is now a member of the Tennessee Titans. But it will never matter what uniform he wears. Even if he spends the last several years of his career playing for the Jets or the Colts, or even if he shows up to Fenway Park wearing an Alex Rodriguez jersey, or even if he swears on his life that Magic Johnson was better than Larry Bird – it doesn’t matter. He will never pay for a drink in Boston for as long as he lives.

I’ll admit it, I had never heard of the kid prior to Super Bowl 49. He was listed as the fifth cornerback on the depth chart coming into that game. He went undrafted in that year’s draft, and signed with the Pats as a rookie free agent. Not usually your typical formula for a Super Bowl hero, but this Malcolm Butler kid was special. He was in the right place at the right time.

The football gods said “Malcolm, we’re going to give you one opportunity to become immortalized in the annals of Boston sports. Use it wisely.”

And indeed, Malcolm used it wisely. With 20 seconds left on the clock and the Seahawks just one touchdown away from winning the Super Bowl, this random kid that nobody knew wearing a No. 21 Patriots jersey came out of nowhere, stepped in front of Russell Wilson’s pass at the goal line and snagged it. Game over. The Pats were world champs, and this kid was instantaneously a living legend.

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks
Michigan’s game-winning buzzer beater in the NCAA Tournament was almost as unbelievable as Malcolm Butler’s interception in Super Bowl XLIX.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Butler then became a fan favorite in Foxboro. After fellow corners Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington departed, Butler became a starter for the 2015 season and earned his way to the Pro Bowl. He had another solid season in 2016 as New England’s No. 1 corner, and won his second championship ring in Super Bowl 51.

In 2017, he was demoted to No. 2 following the acquisition of former Buffalo corner Stephon Gilmore, and it eventually led to the unusual situation of Butler finding himself on the bench when the Patriots returned to the Super Bowl again. He didn’t play a single snap against the Eagles in Super Bowl 52 (a 41-33 loss for the Pats), which is a very odd place for the guy who made the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history to find himself in. The true reason for Butler’s benching has never been completely revealed; Bill Belichick has hardly said any words on the matter. Stunning, I know.

But whether or not things ended on poor terms between Butler and the Patriots, it ultimately doesn’t matter. It will never change the fact that he singlehandedly won Super Bowl 49 for them. He could’ve retired from football immediately after making that interception, and nobody would’ve ever forgotten his name. Even after that, he still gave this team three more good seasons and constantly worked his butt off every day. He was the scrappy little guy that always had to prove himself, and he usually did.

I can’t blame him for signing a five-year, $61 million deal with Tennessee. I guess it was just time for both Butler and the Patriots to move on from each other. But the scrappy little guy from Vicksburg, Mississippi gave us a handful of good memories, and one very huge memory that we will never, ever, ever, ever forget.

Thanks, Malcolm.