Making the improbable a reality
Published 10:11 am Monday, February 2, 2015
Malcolm Butler’s been doing the improbable for several years.
He played football in his freshman season at Vicksburg High, then sat out the next two years before returning to the team his senior year. He had 61 tackles and one interception, and showed enough potential to warrant a scholarship offer from Hinds Community College — which he promptly messed up by getting kicked out of school following an off-the-field incident halfway through his first semester.
Butler returned to Vicksburg and a job at Popeye’s Chicken, where the gravity of his wasted opportunity crashed down upon him. That’s when Butler decided to take control of his own destiny. He enrolled in classes at Alcorn State to get his academic qualifications in order and was invited back to the Hinds’ football team in the fall of 2010.
Butler went on to become a two-time All-Gulf South Conference player at West Alabama, signed a free agent contract with the Patriots last May, and made the NFL team’s roster with an impressive performance throughout training camp.
The road to redemption hasn’t been easy for Butler but he’s persevered through it all, intent on living his dream.
He barely played in the first half of Sunday’s game against Seattle, then moved into the defensive lineup halfway through the third quarter with the Patriots trailing 24-14.
Butler broke up a deep pass along the sideline to prevent a third down and he had good coverage on Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse on another third down play in the fourth quarter.
Those stops helped New England rally for two touchdowns and a 28-24 lead with 2:02 remaining. Butler’s big game was just getting going, though.
On Seattle’s final drive, quarterback Russell Wilson kept throwing in the rookie’s direction. Wilson threw a pass deep down the right sideline intended for Kearse. Butler jumped, reached back and made a spectacular play to knock the ball down.
Unfortunately, the deflected pass fell straight onto Kearse’s legs, and the receiver made a highlight-reel play of his own to complete a 33-yard reception that gave Seattle the ball at the 5-yard line.
All around the country, fans gasped in astonishment. Butler had made a phenomenal play on the ball, only to be upstaged by one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history.
“I felt like I did my job, but it still hurt that he caught it,” Butler, who finished with three solo tackles and three pass defenses, told NFL Network. “I felt like anyone else would feel, that it was my fault that we didn’t win the game. I just had to come out and make a play and step up.”
Step up he did and made the play that should earn a nickname in football lore. Like the “Immaculate Reception” or “The Catch” Butler’s “Improbable Interception” will be talked about by generations of football fans.
In a postgame interview Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was both complimentary and a bit bitter about Butler’s interception.
“We were totally in command and going to win the game. The guy makes a play he’s not supposed to make,” Carroll said in a postgame interview. “He made a great play and stole a championship from us.”
Les Lemons, who played with Butler at both Vicksburg High and Hinds, said Butler’s ability and work ethic were never in question.
“He always made big plays. I knew his work ethic and how he trains. He trains for those big-time opportunities,” Lemons said.
It was that approach that helped make Butler a Super Bowl and Vicksburg hero.
Heroes deserve a parade and Butler should get one upon his return to his hometown.