Monday, February 2, 2015

Patriots' Butler The Hero In Classic Super Bowl Victory

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way..." Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities

Indeed, the other way.

Poised to rip the hearts out of the New England Patriots and their legion of fans on Sunday night, the Seattle Seahawks were on the threshold of football nirvana, a mere yard away from the Elysian field known as the end zone...

...armed with 26 seconds and one time out, the Seahawks had the fate of both teams in the capable hands of quarterback Russell Wilson - soon, almost every football fan on earth figured, to be in the arms of a feisty, skittle-eating, media-loathing load of a running back Marshawn Lynch, who would surely punch through the exhausted charges tasked by panic and desperation to stop the irresistible force.
Butler (21) falls forward after intercepting Wilson to seal the win

They had everything before them then, suddenly, they had nothing before them.  Instead of going direct to football heaven, the entirety of the Seattle Seahawks went direct the other way, as instead of handing the ball to their star running back, Wilson stepped back and fired a pass toward an unknown journeyman receiver whom had gone undrafted three years earlier and bounced around three different teams' practice squads before finding the field as a Seahawk.

But instead of connecting with reserve receiver Ricardo Lockette, instead of the ball falling harmlessly to the turf setting up a third and goal from the one yard line, Wilson instead found another undrafted rookie free agent - this one adorned in the silver, white and blue of the enemy.

For New England Patriots' reserve cornerback Malcolm Butler, the final play in Sunday night's Super Bowl surely was the best of times, but only after having to endure the worst of times - and in the end, all of the football world looked upon that play with all due incredulity, unwilling to accept the truth of the moment as it was laid out before them in either their spring of hope or their winter of despair.

Two plays earlier, Butler had given up a long reception to Seahawks top wideout Jermaine Kearse to set Seattle up inside the Patriots' five yard line - not because the rookie had a rookie moment, nor because the veteran Kearse high-pointed the ball over the shorter Butler - but because the venom of fate once again was flowing through the veins of the seemingly eternally snake-bitten Patriots...

...just as it did when seldom-used New York Giants' receiver David Tyree trapped an Eli Manning wobbler on his helmet while being given the business by safety Rodney Harrison in Super Bowl XLII after the 2007 season, and also when the youngest Manning threaded a perfect sideline shot to Mario Manningham on his way to the winning score in Super Bowl XLVI after the 2011 season.

Kearse's catch may go down in history as the best of them all - some would say luckiest - as Butler competed for the ball and was able to get a fingertip on it, defelcting it just enough that Kearse couldn't handle it at the high point, but not enough to keep it from landing in the receiver's lap after it bounded off of his knee - a circus catch in any definition.

The worst of times.

"This is going to be my fault" Butler thought to himself as he repaired dejectedly to the sidelines after the play. "I don't want this to be my fault."

Consoled by teammates on the sidelines, Butler still watched in horror as Lynch was stopped just short of the goal line on the ensuing play, then the rookie was sent back in on the next as the Seahawks loaded up the right side with pass catchers in a bunch formation that Butler knew all too well from coach Bill Belichick's relentless instruction.

A rub route, where the the inside receiver - the flanker - pushes upfield into a cornerback playing press at the goal line, escorting the corner backwards into the path of the corner covering the outside receiver, freeing the receiver to make an uncontested catch, this time for the World Championship.

The rookie readied himself, knowing that the rub was coming but also buoyed by the knowledge that fellow corner Brandon Browner, his large and physically imposing compatriot in the secondary had the flanker.  The ball was snapped, but instead of being pushed back into the scrum, Browner jammed the inside receiver, leaving a clear path for Butler to Lockette, who had squared his shoulders in anticipation of the quick strike...

...meeting Lockette just as the ball arrived with enough force to nudge his way into perfect position to grasp the ball out of the air, securing it with two hands and falling forward to the two yard line as his jubilant teammates danced  the dance of a champion.

Most assuredly, the best of times.

After all had settled down, after all of the red, white and blue confetti has stopped falling on the natural grass at University of Phoenix Stadium, and after the Lombardi Trophy was securely in the hands of a stoic and melancholy team owner Robert Kraft, Butler's teammates pondered his dance with destiny.

"Malcolm" asked veteran defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich. "Where were you one year ago today?"

Butler couldn't remember in the middle of the carnage of lights and microphones being thrust in his face, but there is a chance that he was sitting in a literature class at West Alabama University, pondering another night of greasy, mindless labor at his job at Popeye's Chicken, his attention waning between that and Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities...

...a story that he doesn't have to read now that he is no longer a college student and is, in fact, a hero and destined for Patriots' lore - but he should read it, because he's lived it, and there's nothing like knowing what's coming whether it be in classic literature or on a rub route.

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