There is nothing quite like a good underdog story. Those stories get even better when they are able to come full-circle.
In the wake of the recent Super Bowl victory for the Patriots, one of these stories has come to light with Malcolm Butler. The undrafted rookie cornerback for the Patriots made the game-saving interception during this year’s Super Bowl, creating an incredible underdog narrative that inspired a nation.
Butler, 24, was raised by his mother along side four siblings in Vicksburg, Miss. Only playing two seasons of high school football, he went on to play at Hinds Community College. For undisclosed reasons, Butler was actually dismissed from the team after playing just five games.
Butler finished out his freshman year working at a Popeye’s fast food joint.
As his sophomore year rolled around, Butler was offered a spot back on the team at Hinds. It was during this season that Butler caught the eye of coach Michael McCarthy at West Alabama University.
Butler transferred the next year to West Alabama, a division II school. Always pleased with Butler’s attitude, McCarthy says Butler was “a really good personality, a quiet guy”.
Though there were many NFL recruiters in the area at the time Butler was at West Alabama, they were more interested in the players coming out of University of Alabama. Yet, Butler’s enthusiasm and talent continued to impress McCarthy, who encouraged him to attend the New England Patriots try out camp in May.
Living up to his reputation of being open to sign undrafted players, Bill Belichick was eager and impressed with Butler’s performance at tryout camp. He said in an interview, “We kind of created a roster spot for him by juggling some other guys around, and so we signed him. That’s a pretty big jump from West Alabama to the NFL.”
With that, Butler was added to the 90-man roster for the New England Patriots. As they fought through an impressive season, the Patriots came into the Super Bowl ready for battle.
In an surprisingly exciting game, Butler was placed into the game at the start of the third quarter for Kyle Arrington. Calm and confident, Butler played hard and was ready for whatever came his way.
As Butler made the interception that solidified the Patriot’s win and shocked the nation, Butler instantly became a star. The underdog had persevered and found himself basking in the limelight.
In the words of Butler himself, “I just charged the ball.”
The boy who came from a small town, worked at Popeye’s, played in junior college and at West Alabama outsmarted the Seattle Seahawks with one simple interception. Butler says, “I’m pretty sure he[Russell Wilson] knows I’m a rookie, and who wouldn’t try a rookie? I was ready.
Since that fateful play, Butler has since gone on to appear on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and presented the award of Best Rock Album to Beck at the 2015 Grammys.
Yet, what makes this story so special is what Butler has done for West Alabama University. Bringing the underdog story full circle, he has created incredible press for the school and it’s football program.
In the days after National Signing Day, which is normally a relatively quiet occasion, emails and phone calls came streaming in. According to a local Alabama news website, “Never has the small Alabama school, with a stadium that seats 7,000, received this publicity”.
Current West Alabama coach, Brett Gilliland stated, “I think it validated our program. I think we’ll see the repercussions […] for years to come.”
Butler’s story inspires hope in those who are playing for West Alabama today, and any player intimidated to tryout for the NFL when overlooked by drafters. When young men find themselves having to support their families and themselves while working at a fast food restaurant or being undervalued in the places they work and play, they can turn to Butler as inspiration. His hard work and determination to be the best he can be as a player and person serve as the perfect role model for those who feel restrained by their current circumstances.
As McCarthy says, “I certainly can see why he has persevered through all that and became the player he is. From the time I saw him on our campus, it was nothing but hard work. He was a vocal leader. He’s also a leader by example and a great competitor on the practice field.”
As Butler’s success continues, one can hope that his example will keep inspiring underdogs across the country to constantly work toward achieving their dreams.