Malcolm Butler is a Super Bowl hero. Deservedly so, but not just for intercepting a goal line pass from Russell Wilson in the middle of the field that would have catapulted the Seattle Seahawks into football dynasty territory with a second straight Super Bowl victory. Instead, the New England Patriots are NFL champions for a fourth time in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era over the last 14 years.
Butler jumped in front of Ricardo Lockette to snare the ball and save the Patriots’ day. But in truth, it was his second save of the game, the first having come just two plays before the “catch,” the play of the game, that is, until Butler’s interception.
The catch I refer to was Jermaine Kearse’s remarkable, unbelievable, mind- boggling, juggling snatch of a ball defended and deflected by Butler, what at first appeared to be a superb defensive play by the unheralded, undrafted small college defensive back. But if you followed the play to its conclusion, what most if not all reporters and commentators have ignored, is that the play did not end when Kearse eventually caught the ball lying flat on his back around New England’s eight yard line. He got up and would have scored if not for Butler’s presence of mind to scramble up from the turf and push Kearse out of bounds at the five yard line.
One more thing of note about Malcolm Butler: In all the interviews I read and saw Butler never thanked God. Oh, he said he was blessed, but he didn’t follow that with the trite trope of thanking God, as many athletes do, as if God somehow favored the Patriots and didn’t care about the Seahawks.
And for those who didn’t come across this analysis of Butler’s interception, it was made possible because his teammate, Brandon Browner, wouldn’t allow himself to be pushed back by Kearse, which would have blocked Butler’s direct path to the ball. Browner is the unsung hero of Butler’s heroics.
Here’s how Tuesday’s New York Times described it, though in truth I heard ESPN analyst and former head coach Herman Edwards break it down on Monday (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/sports/football/true-hero-for-patriots-put-rookie-butler-in-spotlight.html?ref=sports&_r=0).
I also heard an ESPN analyst explain that in forcefully going for the ball Butler legally banged into Lockette’s arms, effectively pushing them up and away from any chance of catching the pass from Wilson.
Perhaps most fatefully, Butler caught the ball. If he had just knocked it down, Seattle would have had two more chances to punch the ball across the goal line, no doubt by either handing off to Marshawn Lynch or by Wilson bootlegging it into the end zone.