Super Bowls, on occasion, have been known to give the little-known player national recognition for their performance or one key play in the big game.
Think back to 2008 and David Tyree of the New York Giants with his incredible “helmet catch” or last year, Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith with a pick-6 and fumble recovery and being voted MVP.
Tyree, a sixth-round pick, was primarily a backup player with only 54 catches in 83 games played over a six-year NFL career. It’s simply astounding if one thinks of what Tyree came up with given the circumstances and his limited experience.
Smith was a seventh-round pick and had only two interceptions in his regular season career. In Seattle’s run to the title last year, he had two interceptions in that postseason alone. His pick-6 in the Super Bowl gave Seattle a 22–0 lead and effectively put the game out of reach.
Sunday’s XLIX version was no different, but the unheralded hero “award” could have gone to two players depending on who won the game—Seattle’s Chris Matthews and New England’s Malcolm Butler.
Matthews was working in a Foot Locker store before being signed as a free agent in early 2014. The wideout was better known for being the CFL rookie of the year in 2012 with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He also recovered the fateful onside kick against Green Bay that led to Seattle’s remarkable victory in the NFC Conference championship.
Matthews hadn’t caught a pass all year for Seattle until his four grabs in the Super Bowl. The first one was outstanding—44 yards down the sideline in the second quarter.
Matthews led all Seahawks receivers with 109 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Had Seattle won, he’d merit serious consideration for MVP, along with Marshawn Lynch.
The Butler Did It
The Patriots scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to complete the biggest fourth quarter comeback in Super Bowl history. And Butler’s interception of Russell Wilson from the 1-yard line was the most hotly debated play of the wildly entertaining game.
Having one of the game’s greatest running backs in Lynch, who had already gashed the Patriots for 102 yards on 24 carries, Seattle decided to throw a slant pass instead of handing the ball back to Lynch with 26 seconds left to play.
Seattle made a questionable call, but Butler, a rookie, still had to come up with a great play. He jumped the route run by Seattle’s Ricardo Lockette and got the pick.
“I just had a vision that I was going to make a big play,” Butler told NBC immediately after the game.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll called Butler’s play “miraculous” and accepted the blame for the counter-intuitive call.
Later that night, Butler spoke with ESPN’s SportsCenter and talked about the feeling of disbelief he was still experiencing.
“Is it true? Is it really real?” said Butler. Not surprisingly, he was very surprised when Wilson didn’t hand the ball to Lynch in that situation.
Butler had to recover his composure after Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse hauled in a 33-yard “immaculate reception” just two plays before his key interception. Butler was defending Kearse on the play and got a hand on the ball before Kearse came down with the juggling catch.
Butler did everything he could to stop Kearse, but Seattle was nevertheless in a position to win the game from the 1-yard line.
“I just had to come out there and make a play and step up,” said Butler in an onfield interview with NFL network.
The 24-year-old Butler featured in 14 games for New England in limited duty and made 18 tackles. But he took advantage of his opportunity when he needed to.
“He made the play of the century, no doubt,” said Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. And Patriots QB Tom Brady is going to give Butler the Chevrolet truck he won for being named the game’s MVP.
Super Bowl XLIX more than lived up to its massive hype. The back-and-forth contest will be remembered as one of the best among several great games in recent years.
The big game doesn’t often let us down and tales of unheralded players making the biggest impact at the biggest moment are an integral part of the what often makes it so great and unpredictable.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports