With the Patriots clinging to a 4-point lead over the Seattle Seahawks late in Super Bowl XLIX, an anticipatory despair had begun to percolate in New England. The Patriots had lost their last two Super Bowl appearances in the final moments. Both times astonishing catches by opposing receivers had aided the winning drive.
Now it was happening again. With 1 minute, 6 seconds remaining, Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse leapt in unison with Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler in pursuit of an arcing pass by Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. Butler succeeded in getting a hand on the football. But the football refused to tumble harmlessly to the turf.
Instead, it ricocheted off Kearse’s various limbs before settling into his hands. Butler shoved him out of bounds at the 5-yard line. A play too implausible for a daydream had become the Patriots’ nightmare again.
Defeat seemed imminent. Destiny or lady luck or any of those other weary sports tropes did not intervene. But an unassuming rookie from Vicksburg, Mississippi, via the University of West Alabama did. With 20 seconds left to play, Butler bolted in front of Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette at the goal line, intercepted Wilson’s pass, and changed everything. The Patriots were champions for the first time in a decade. The interception instantly ranked among the greatest plays in the history of Boston sports.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t hear about it,’’ Butler says during a recent interview. “Not a day. If I go out to lunch now and think that I’ll be OK.” He laughs. “It’s not OK. But it’s all love.
“I think about how I would be if I had been sitting at my house watching the game and everything goes down that way and someone makes an interception to help win the game, I’d be excited to meet them, too. I put myself in their shoes. I understand. It’s called living.”
Butler, who has thrived in his second NFL season, lost his obscurity while saving the Super Bowl. But he’s been determined not to lose his identity. “I don’t want to fall away, don’t want to get lost off that play,’’ says Butler, who endearingly fought back tears on the sideline after his interception. “But I know it will be something people will always want to talk about. That’s why I got emotional after it happened. It was the feeling, knowing I did something special.”
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