GLENDALE, Ariz. – There are undrafted rookies and then there are guys below undrafted rookies who have to prove themselves during rookie mini-camp to even get a shot at finding a career path in the NFL.
Prior to clinching the Patriots 28-24 victory over the Seahawks in the final second of Super Bowl XLIX Sunday night, undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler was in the latter group. That's a group that rarely produces regular season players never mind Super Bowl stars.
Coming out of West Alabama, Butler arrived in New England last May in a group that Bill Belichick has a fond nickname for.
"The few, the proud, the free," Belichick joked in his postgame press conference of his unlikely rookie playmaker, with the shiny Lombardi Trophy just a couple feet away.
Butler took advantage of his tryout, earned a summer roster spot and then earned a surprise job on the 53-man squad to close training camp.
He had an up-and-down season as a rookie that finished on a story-book high that left him speechless.
Butler intercepted Russell Wilson's ill-advised slant throw intended for Ricardo Lockette and fell to the turf clinch the win.
"I'm just blessed," Butler said. "I can't even explain it right now."
The big play came with the Seahawks at second-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 26 seconds to play. It occurred just moments after Jermaine Kearse had beaten Butler down the right sideline for a circus catch in which the receiver bobbled the ball multiple times before hauling it in while lying on the ground for a 33-yard gain to the 5.
After New England's epic comeback, it appeared Seattle might be poised to do the same to defend its title. But Pete Carroll made the curious decision to throw the ball and Butler made the play that will forever make him a note in the history books, a random star in New England folklore.
"It all comes down to preparation," Butler said. "I just didn't guess and just went and made a play."
Tom Brady took home the MVP and the new pickup truck to go with it.
But it was Butler who made the play of the game that helped Belichick and Brady stamp their names in the record books among the greatest winners in the history of the NFL.
"For a rookie to make a play like that in the Super Bowl to win the game is unbelievable," Brady concluded.