Super Bowl 2023: At the last Super Bowl in Arizona, Malcolm Butler became an instant legend
Malcolm Butler still tells the stories of Super Bowl XLIX like it's the first time. He's 32 years old now, eight years removed from his famous interception. He'll be talking about two seconds of his life when he's 42. And 82.
There aren't many people in any walk of life who are famous for one great moment. Butler doesn't mind reliving it, and why should he? He made one of the greatest plays in NFL history. That's not a bad legacy.
The last time the Super Bowl was in Arizona, Butler's New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. People still debate why the Seahawks passed it on second-and-goal instead of handing to Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line.
"I was totally expecting them to pass it there," Butler told Yahoo Sports.
There's a pause.
"No, I'm just messing with you," he said with a laugh. "Yeah, I would have run the damn ball.
"But I'm glad they did throw it."
Less than two seconds elapsed between the Seahawks snapping the ball and the moment Butler stepped in front of receiver Ricardo Lockette and picked off Russell Wilson's pass. That play clinched a Super Bowl championship. It's the single most impactful play, in terms of a win probability swing, in Super Bowl history. No other play is close. It happened with 114.4 million people watching, which is still a Super Bowl record.
With the Super Bowl back in Arizona, there is renewed interest in Butler sharing the stories again. He'll be on radio row in Phoenix this week talking about his big play. Most one-time Pro Bowl cornerbacks who played 100 NFL games wouldn't be invited.
We'll remember Butler forever, as long as NFL history is discussed.
"Most definitely," Butler said. "They're going to talk about this forever."
Russell Wilson tipped off Malcolm Butler
Butler didn't even expect to play at cornerback in Super Bowl XLIX.
"I was like the last cornerback on the team," Butler said.
Cornerback Kyle Arrington was struggling against the Seahawks. The coaches gave Butler a shot. In the final seconds he was put in the game in the Patriots' three-cornerback goal-line set as the Seahawks were on the verge of taking the lead. It's a personnel grouping New England hadn't used all season. Then Butler noticed something before the second-and-goal play.
"Russell was just looking at me," Butler said.
Butler started to consider what might happen next.
"I saw [Wilson] peek at me," Butler said. "I knew they couldn't run it that far over. I told myself, if this guy [Lockette] plants hard, I knew he was coming back to the middle.
"Russell just give me this sign he was throwing the ball. [Lockette] planted and I just broke."
Butler laughed. He said he would get in trouble in high school for looking in the backfield too often. This time it tipped him off.
"I guess they saw a loaded box and thought they could pick on old No. 21," Butler said.
The Seahawks were passing when everyone thought they would run, against a cornerback who didn't think he'd play, and was in the game at that moment only because New England decided to use a goal-line grouping it hadn't used all season. It was meant to be for Butler.
Butler diagnosed it but then he had to actually make the play. Butler cut off Lockette, who was listed at 211 pounds, and they collided at full speed. Somehow, Butler made the catch. If he would have dropped it, it would have been understandable, and his phone probably wouldn't be blowing up as much these last two weeks.
"I don't know how I caught it, but I caught it," Butler said. "I really don't know how I did it."
He goes through what happened on the play, like it has just occurred to him he might have dropped the interception that made him famous.
"It's crazy," Butler said. "I don't understand how I held onto the ball."
According to Football Outsiders' win probability, the Patriots had a 12.6 percent chance to win before that second-and-goal play. It jumped to 100 percent after the interception. The 87 percent win probability shift almost doubles the swing of any other single play in Super Bowl history.
Tom Brady gave Butler the truck he won for being Super Bowl MVP.
"That was one of the greatest defensive plays in the history of the NFL," Brady told "The Dan Patrick Show" last year.
The play that put Butler 'on the map'
Butler said he is reminded of his big play almost every day. Butler said that he usually keeps to himself, but even when he's in the house he'll see something on social media about his big play. Someone will thank him or remind him that Brady wouldn't have seven rings without him, he said. He said his son, who is 7 years old, asks him about the play and will look it up on YouTube. The clip of the play on the NFL's YouTube channel has 4.4 million views.
When asked when he knew that play changed his life, he said it was before he even got back to the locker room. Reporters swarmed around him.
"I was like, what did I just do?" Butler said. "I thought they'd be running after Tom Brady or Darrelle Revis."
He remembers having security around him at the afterparty.
"I was like, damn, is this really me?" Butler said. "It changed everything immediately."
Butler hasn't played since 2020. Butler was with the Tennessee Titans from 2018-20. He came back to the Patriots last year but was put on injured reserve before the season and later waived. He'll turn 33 in March but is still working out, figuring out if he wants to keep trying to play. He's helping train high school players in Houston. Corporations have reached out to see if Butler would be interested in sharing his underdog story with their employees. There have been talks about a book deal, and maybe even a movie on his story.
Eight years after his signature play in Arizona, doors are still opening.
"That's what put me on the map," Butler said.