Butler’s homecoming caps wild month

Published 1:05 am Sunday, February 22, 2015

New England Patriots cornerback and Vicksburg native Malcolm Butler (21) waves to the crowd along with family members at Saturday’s parade in downtown Vicksburg. (Paul Ingram/For The Vicksburg Post)

New England Patriots cornerback and Vicksburg native Malcolm Butler (21) waves to the crowd along with family members at Saturday’s parade in downtown Vicksburg. (Paul Ingram/For The Vicksburg Post)

Malcolm Butler had a busy Saturday.

Thousands of people lined the streets of downtown Vicksburg to see him ride past on a float during the Malcolm Butler Homecoming Parade, which capped Malcolm Butler week in the city.

A capacity crowd of 700 packed the Vicksburg Convention Center as Butler was praised by a U.S. Congressman, a state senator, and other local dignitaries and friends. Mayor George Flaggs presented the 24-year-old with a key to the city. Afterward, a few hundred people waited an hour in line — and many more were turned away — just for an autograph.

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The most amazing part of all the spectacle was that it might have been one of the more low-key public events he’s been to this month.

From the Super Bowl to Disneyland and the Grammy Awards, the Vicksburg native has been around the country and back again since his last-minute interception sealed the New England Patriots’ 28-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1.

Saturday’s parade and the ensuing ceremonies in his hometown brought things full circle for the former Vicksburg High star who went from a fairly anonymous rookie cornerback to in-demand celebrity literally overnight.

“It’s been real crazy. Life changed real fast. The whole world seen what I did, so it’s supposed to change that fast,” Butler said. “I’ve been busy a lot. A lot of phone calls. Less rest. Not getting as much sleep as I normally get. It’s been bad in a good way, so everything’s good.”

Butler’s rise to the NFL has been well documented. He only played one season of varsity high school football at Vicksburg High, then was kicked off the team at Hinds Community College during his freshman season. He pulled himself off the mat, got another chance at Hinds, and eventually went on to star at Division II West Alabama before signing with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent last May.

“You’re talking a minute chance of ever playing in the NFL,” said Jackie Williamson, who was the offensive coordinator at VHS during Butler’s high school days and one of hundreds of well-wishers waiting to get into the Convention Center on Saturday. “Then you turn around and play in the Super Bowl and all of a sudden his role came up and he made it happen. That’s a dream come true.”

Vicksburg resident Kametra Harris, who was at the parade with her friend Ed Myles, agreed. She said Butler’s rags-to-riches story has turned him into a role model.

“I had tears in my eyes when I saw the play,” Harris said. “I have a 14-year-old, and it’s showed him that dreams can come true.”

The fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX turned Butler into a household name. Inserted as a substitute into a struggling Patriots secondary, he knocked away a pass on Seattle’s final drive and made an acrobatic defensive play to tip a pass that was caught by Jermaine Kearse at the 5-yard line.

Two plays later, he read perfectly the Seahawks’ attempt at a game-winning touchdown pass and made the interception at the 1-yard line that secured New England’s victory with 20 seconds to go.

The rest, he said, is a blur.

“I was asleep one morning and woke up, and was just putting myself in the stands as a fan watching that play, and thinking we were fixing to lose. The whole world thought we were fixing to lose. And that happened. That’s when I realize what I did,” Butler said. “It’s like it isn’t me. I had to watch the play over to remember everything.”

Butler was the first person interviewed by NBC on the field after the game. Not long after, he got a reminder of someone else who wanted to stick a camera in his face.

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, every member of both the Seahawks and Patriots signed a contract with Disney to do the traditional “I’m going to Disneyland!” commercial.

Butler, who wasn’t more than a role player for the Patriots when the game started, said he scoffed at the idea when his agent Derek Simpson told him about it.

“My agent said, ‘Malcolm, you need to sign that Disney contract in case you do anything big.’ I said, ‘Come on, really?’ So I never signed it. At media day he was like just sign it, so I did. It came up and I sure went,” Butler said with a laugh. “Sometimes I turn my head when I see it. I turn the TV when I hear it because I like looking at myself sometimes. Sometimes I’ll pinch myself, clap, do anything to make sure it’s real.”

In the following days, the whirlwind kicked up even more.

Butler appeared on “Good Morning America,” “Today,” and numerous other national radio and TV outlets the day after the Super Bowl. He was on a featured float in the Patriots’ victory parade through the streets of Boston, and the guest of honor at Disneyland for another parade the same week.

On Feb. 8, a week after the Super Bowl, he and teammate Julian Edelman were the presenters for the Best Rock Album category at the Grammy Awards. That was an experience that overwhelmed the guy who plays in front of 60,000 screaming fans every Sunday.

“It was a sight. It was fun. I had a good time meeting all the celebrities. I met Jamie Foxx, Nicki Minaj, L.L. Cool J, some of the people I didn’t even know. It was great. Getting in front of 40 million people, that’s a lot of pressure,” Butler said. “I’m in a whole different ballpark. Playing football is easy. Getting up there in front of 40 million, that’s kind of tough.”

Rather than winding down, Butler stayed in the spotlight a bit longer when quarterback Tom Brady made it known he would pass along to Butler the 2015 Chevy Colorado given to the Super Bowl MVP. Butler accepted the gift at a Chevy dealership in Massachusetts, and said he’ll take delivery of the vehicle in March.

“We had a meeting before our parade in Boston and he tossed me the unofficial keys. He said there’s a souvenir,” Butler said. “I was like OK, I’ll take that.”

By early last week, it was almost time for a break. Butler returned home to Vicksburg for some quiet time before the parade that was held in his honor. Saturday’s celebration wasn’t as big as the one in Boston that hundreds of thousands of people turned out for, but to Butler it was even better.

“It was a great feeling just like it was in Boston. But it feels even better when you’re in your hometown and you know all the people around. That makes it more special,” Butler said. “It’s been a great day. I appreciate Vicksburg. All the sponsors, my coaches, my agent, my mom, family, the New England Patriots organization for giving me an opportunity. But I wouldn’t have believed none of it until it happened.”

Butler has a few more obligations on the calendar before things settle down for good. There’s a ceremony Tuesday to honor him at the state capitol in Jackson and some appearances to sign autographs in the coming weeks. After that, he said he’ll head to Alabama for some conditioning before the Patriots begin offseason workouts in April.

As the wild month winds down, he said he’s learned a lot about fame and how to handle it.

“I didn’t think it was going to be what it was when it happened. But a couple of days later I see that you’ve got to be ready for it. There’s a lot that comes along with it,” he said. “You’ve got to manage it well and be prepared and stay humble, and just keep getting better.”

Butler said he doesn’t expect to have a hard time switching from celebration mode back to football mode when the time comes, and staying grounded until it does.

“It’s built in me, so I won’t have to worry too much about that,” Butler said.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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