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Two Stars of Super Bowl Were NFL Longshots

Fans didn’t know Malcolm Butler and Chris Matthews before the Super Bowl. They know the Patriots defensive back and the Seahawks receiver now.

Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler, an undrafted rookie who was kicked out of community college, worked at Popeyes, and then attended West Alabama College, made the key interception that sealed New England’s victory and Seattle’s fate.

He said later, “I was so emotional. I had a feeling I was going to make a big play, but not that big.”

Butler left high school after two years to attend Hinds Community College in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2009, but was kicked out of school. He worked at Popeyes before he was reinstated at the college. The only contact he had with the NFL after playing at West Alabama came from the New England’s cornerback coach, who selected him as the one player he could bring to the team’s mini-camp. Butler made New England’s 90-man preseason roster and ultimately survived the cut to a 53-player roster. He did not play against the Ravens in the playoffs, and only was used for 15 plays against the Colts in the AFC Championship game.

Butler’s historic interception didn’t stem from a simple spontaneous reaction. He acknowledged after the game that the Patriots had practiced the same play in practice, when he had not made the play against Patriots’ receiver Josh Boyce. He said, “Preparation, I remembered the formation they [were] in. Two receivers stacked, and I just knew they was throwing a pick route.”

West Alabama receivers coach and director of football operations Michael McCarty said of Butler, “I certainly can see why he has persevered through all that and become 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. We just called him ‘The Playmaker.’ He’s a hardcore guy. He gets after it. He is as fiery a competitor as I’ve ever seen, especially at that position. He was always around the ball. He’s a ball hawk.”

Seattle’s Chris Matthews, who caught four passes for 109 yards and a touchdown, played with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for two years while working offseasons at Foot Locker and as a security guard.

Matthews, who played at Los Angeles Harbor College before leaving for the University of Kentucky his junior season, later to be cut by the Cleveland Browns, almost missed his chance to play for the Seahawks. Roughly one year ago, an official from the team asked him to attend a tryout that night. Matthews responded, “I don’t get off of work until 9 p.m. I don’t know if I’ll make it.” When his agent heard, he was furious, yelling at Matthews, “What are you thinking! Get yourself home, pack up, and go. Are you out of your mind?!”

Matthews didn’t just make one big play for the Seahawks in the playoffs; he recovered the onside kickoff against Green Bay in the NFC Championship game that gave the Seahawks the chance to score the go-ahead touchdown.

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