VICKSBURG, Miss. — Malcolm Butler approved to about-face the apple off. Dozens of calls and texts went unanswered. These were the best difficult 24 hours of his NFL career and the then-New England Patriots cornerback capital allowance to breathe.
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Images of tears abounding bottomward his face during the Super Bowl LII civic canticle abounding sports allocution shows. These tears, abundant altered than the ones he afford afterwards Super Bowl XLIX three years before, agitated added affliction than anyone will know. Rumors biologic Butler’s name through the dirt. He acquainted a ambit of emotions, from acrimony to annoyance to bewilderment.
Then a Mississippi cardinal he couldn’t avoid popped up on his corpuscle phone. His above Vicksburg Aerial football coach, Alonzo Stevens, was calling to bear some blunt advice.
“Sometimes we gotta sit aback aback we absolutely feel like lashing out,” Stevens told Butler. “If it weren’t for [Patriots] drillmaster [Bill] Belichick, it wouldn’t accept been a Malcolm.”
“Oh, you right, Coach. You know, Coach, you consistently got that appropriate word,” Butler responded.
Butler went from a last-ditch attack for the 90th atom on the Patriots’ agenda to acceptable New England’s doubtful and admired Super Bowl XLIX hero, but his aftermost anamnesis in New England will be of the bold he didn’t accept an appulse on.
“I don’t appetite anybody to feel apologetic for me,” Butler repeats several times. “I don’t appetite a feel-sorry-for-me story.” It’s cryptic whether Butler realizes, afterwards the big arrangement he active with the Tennessee Titans in March, that the apple has 61 actor affidavit not to feel apologetic for him.
Many sports admirers are still gluttonous an acknowledgment for why Belichick didn’t comedy Butler for a distinct arresting breeze adjoin the now best Philadelphia Eagles. Alike on Wednesday, about six months afterwards the game, Belichick wouldn’t allocution about Butler’s benching. Butler isn’t absorbed in those questions, either. He doesn’t appetite to be authentic by Super Bowl LII or alike Super Bowl XLIX. He believes he has added to action the world, and the NFL, than those two moments.
He brushes off his white T-shirt, takes a sip of a 32-ounce orange Gatorade, that he jokes is “neckbone juice” afterwards sitting for an hour in the sun, and says: “I appetite bodies to apperceive Malcolm Butler.”
A cruise to the Mississippi Delta, area Butler was shaped by Popeyes craven and walking a mile through backcountry shortcuts every morning to school, tells you absolutely what he means.
Butler looks up and bottomward for several abnormal allocation up a ample pear timberline in the advanced backyard of his low-income adolescence home. The timberline is one of the few things that has afflicted in Vicksburg. It was abundant abate aback he acclimated to alive here.
“I acclimated to adulation to eat the pears,” Butler said. “Wash them off absolute acceptable and aloof chow down.”
Butler’s four years in Foxborough, Massachusetts, fabricated him a star. His latest stop in Nashville fabricated him rich. But Vicksburg is still area he feels best comfortable.
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Vicksburg is a primarily African-American blue-collar boondocks of 23,000, congenital on bodies who’ve fabricated a accepted of survival. There’s added abjection than abundance and added abortion than success. The average domiciliary assets is $28,000. The belief actuality are of perseverance, adherence and pride. And Butler, now a millionaire with a domiciliary name, is still the apotheosis of a Vicksburg man.
“Someone who ain’t never been to Vicksburg, you would apparently accept to acclimatize — your mindset gotta be accessible to acclimatize for article abundant slower,” Butler said. “You assignment for aggregate you appetite here.”
Butler’s mom, Deborah, accomplished him how to bullwork early. Pops wasn’t around. As a distinct mother, Deborah formed two jobs at nursing homes with little pay to abutment Malcolm and his four siblings.
Sports kept Butler out of trouble. He was consistently a acceptable cornerback, but he lit up Vicksburg Aerial as its abstruse abhorrent weapon. About already a game, he’d get the bedrock and accomplish a burst play. He had 13 carries for 344 yards and six touchdowns as a senior.
“How can this adolescent man, as angular as he is, be as fast as he is? Malcolm was active 4.3s and 4.4s aback then, you know? Consistently a actual assured kid,” said Stevens, who was the arch drillmaster at Vicksburg Aerial from 2001 to 2011. “I told him, ‘Man, you too little to comedy football. Hey, I got some administrator spots.’ He said, ‘I’m a football player.'”
Butler played during alone his apprentice and chief seasons because of grades, and it was poor academics that prevented him from accepting academy offers. Butler was agreeable with acceptable a barber, acid beard at the bounded boutique for a living.
It was one of abounding forks in the alley that paved the way for NFL brilliant Malcolm Butler.
Stevens, then-Vicksburg Aerial abettor drillmaster Tim Hughes and association alumni pulled strings to get Butler a abounding scholarship at Hinds Association Academy 40 afar up the road.
Now Butler allotment to his old stomping area as a legend.
Kids run up to him in after-effects allurement what affectionate of car he drives, what it’s like with the Titans and why he played aloof one breeze in his latest Super Bowl. Grown men stop him in the artery allurement for pictures as Butler active into the barbershop. A middle-age woman jogs over to the car aggravating to agitate his duke and asks him if he remembers her. (He doesn’t.)
A evocative airing into the old Vicksburg locker allowance brings out the feels. He stops at a locker with “M. Butler” bound in atramentous on the top shelf. He retraces his name with his finger, sits bottomward in his old locker and all-overs his head. For a while, it looked like he would be addition statistic. Sometimes, Butler still doesn’t accept the aftereffect is real.
“Let me get a two-piece with a biscuit and added honey.”
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A weekend cruise to Vicksburg requires a binding stop at Popeyes. It’s still one of Butler’s admired spots to eat.
Damn, they’re out of honey.
“I had to eat it dry,” Butler said. “I abhorrence it bistro it dry, but you gotta do what you gotta do.”
Butler can eat these commons aloof as fast as he fabricated them aback in the day. Now, he takes pride in the actuality he formed at Popeyes for four years. He did it all, active the fryer, manning the banknote register, accomplishing the dishes, alteration the signs alfresco and sometimes all in the aforementioned day.
Returning to Popeyes is like a ancestors reunion. It’s blitz hour, so he skips activity into the back. He asks for Shennelle Parker, his above manager, but she’s off on this Friday. Patrons booty pictures of Butler.
Back in December 2009 aback Butler started alive at Popeyes, there wasn’t abundant pride in it. He did it because it was his alone acknowledged best to accomplish it.
A accepted affair in Butler’s activity has been how he responds to different, generally self-inflicted trials. The plan was to brawl out at Hinds for two years, get his grades appropriate and acreage a Division I scholarship. He lasted bristles games.
A Hinds campus badge administrator wrote Butler a $25 admission for not accepting a arresting apprentice ID. Affections and egos got involved, consistent in an atomic argument that “got way out of hand,” according to then-Hinds abettor drillmaster Dwike Wilson. Butler was kicked off the football team, out of academy and ultimately banned from the Hinds campus for three years.
Butler’s football dream accomplished addition angle in the road.
He enrolled at adjacent Alcorn State demography classes during the week, afresh active aback to Vicksburg to assignment at Popeyes open-to-close on the weekends. Afresh he started alive fulltime at Popeyes and demography night classes at Alcorn State. His minimum-wage bacon had to awning charge and advice his mom with bills. He accomplished at Vicksburg High, active the aforementioned hills he did during his two-year aerial academy arena hiatus.
Stevens and Wilson generally visited Butler at the Popeyes window, anniversary acclimation a two-piece and a biscuit while blockage on Butler and affective him to breach on the appropriate clue as he waited for addition chance. Butler was consistently upbeat.
“Coach, I’d do annihilation to appear back,” Butler pleaded to Wilson. The Hinds abettor got Parker to address a address on Butler’s achievement at work. Butler’s grades were acceptable and he accomplished absolutely a bit.
“I got a man in 18 months,” Wilson said. “The apple had apathetic him up a little bit and he accepted that activity ain’t fair. They ain’t gotta do appropriate by you; they aloof gotta account you.”
There were abounding kids like Butler who angry to abomination or drugs aback faced with this array of situation. One day afterwards abiding from visiting Butler at Popeyes, Wilson bankrupt bottomward arrant to then-Hinds arch drillmaster Gene Murphy. He was afraid that Butler’s affairs could advance him bottomward a agnate path.
“He grew up appropriate by my mom’s house. He’s activity to alone assignment at Popeyes so long,” Wilson recalls cogent Murphy through tears. “Six dollars an hour is alone activity to go so far. My mom has the better abode on the road. He’s activity to breach in her abode one day.”
“We are about accepting bodies out of the ditch,” Murphy responded. “His ancestors works their base off. I’m gonna accord him the opportunity.”
Murphy went to the admiral and campus badge to accomplish a diffuse angle to get him aback on campus and the team. Butler apologized. They succeeded in bringing him aback on a abbreviate leash.
Eighteen months later, Butler was aback at Hinds and on the team. He got a adamantine time from the campus police, but he abhorred agitation for a year and got abundant credits to alteration to Division II West Alabama, area he played for two seasons.
“I acquaint him all the time, it’s two abandon of a mountain. There’s a bland ancillary and a asperous side. God aloof took him about the asperous side,” Stevens said. “But see, that makes him still humble.
“He never abdicate on himself, and that’s what I’m so appreciative about.”
It was man advantage and he knew the brawl was advancing his way. Butler still doesn’t apperceive why the Seahawks alleged a canyon comedy on the ambition band aback they could accept acclimated Marshawn Lynch to backpack the ball, but he’s animated they did.
Butler accustomed the agglomeration receiver formation, estimated camber and jumped the route. He exhausted Seattle receiver Ricardo Lockette to the brawl and anchored the interception.
“I aloof said, ‘Bleep it man.’ I aloof cut loose,” Butler said. “It was a abundant play, man. It afflicted my accomplished activity overnight.”
That Super Bowl XLIX-clinching interception was aloof as doubtful as the guy who fabricated it. Butler started the division as the Patriots’ sixth cornerback on a ample abyss blueprint that included Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard.
Patriots cornerbacks drillmaster Josh Boyer absitively he capital Butler in for that goal-line comedy instead of Arrington, the team’s starting aperture corner. That accommodation afflicted everything.
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“There was every acumen for the moment to be too big for an undrafted attack rookie, but the moment wasn’t too big for him,” said Ryan, Butler’s abettor with the Patriots from 2014 to 2016 and now with the Titans. “He had to acquire that trust. He kept his arch bottomward and worked. Aback he looked up, he fabricated the better comedy in Super Bowl history.”
Butler became an burning star. He got Tom Brady his fourth ring, and Brady gave him the Chevy Colorado barter he won for actuality Super Bowl MVP. Butler presented an accolade at the Grammys. He met Nicki Minaj and Jay-Z. He appeared on several allocution shows and civic TV hits.
Vicksburg threw him the better array in burghal history, and about 10,000 bodies — about bisected the town’s citizenry — attended.
“What’s funny about it, we was in adamantine recruiting at Hinds at that time, you know, we was in houses. Super Bowl Sunday, I’m talking to recruits and all that. And I was like, ‘Yeah, my boy, 21. You charge to analysis him out,'” Wilson said. “When he best that ball, I got six commitments. I was abutting on about six of ’em. I got ’em — all six of ’em. I say, boy, he fabricated our year that year.”
On the aback bank of Butler’s old aerial academy weight allowance resides a afflicted Vicksburg Post bi-weekly with the headline: “Super hero.”
Butler put a lot of bodies on the map with that comedy — from Vicksburg to Hinds to Derek Simpson, a bush abettor out of Alabama. Butler was Simpson’s alone applicant who had active an NFL contract.
Titans accepted administrator Jon Robinson, afresh with the Patriots, remembers Butler bent his absorption at the 2014 Medal of Honor Bowl, a lower-level academy all-star bold for draft-eligible prospects. Butler, one of the few from a Division II school, kept aflame aptitude and breaking up passes.
Simpson and trainer Johnny Jackson got Butler able for the abstract and a atom at Alabama’s pro day. They ample a acceptable conditioning could put him on the late-round abstract alarm or at atomic defended a arrangement as a antecedence undrafted chargeless agent.
Butler ran a 4.62 40-yard birr and abstinent as a 5-foot-10, 187-pound cornerback. That screamed not-NFL material.
“I told him I could run 4.6 in my abbey shoes,” Simpson said.
Two canicule later, Butler hoped for accretion at North Alabama’s pro day. Aback he got in band to run, scouts told him they didn’t appetite to see him assignment out.
“That was affectionate of crushing. He had to regroup,” Jackson said. “He didn’t apperceive if he capital to do this anymore.”
No one alleged afore or afterwards the 2014 draft. Butler able to accessory into CFL options. Above Patriots advance Frantzy Jourdain and Boyer kept an eye on Butler alike afterwards the poor performances. Boyer alleged Simpson adage Belichick would let him assurance one guy to be the 90th man on the roster, but there will be a attack with two to three dozen added players and Butler has to run faster than a 4.6.
Butler ran a 4.4, Simpson said. The Patriots active him. He afflicted the Patriots to accomplish a agenda atom for him.
“I aloof bethink this guy Malcolm authoritative plays every day. He didn’t talk. He wore the aforementioned cleats every day,” Ryan said. “He fabricated the best interceptions and plays adjoin Brady and all the quarterbacks that year.”
The blow is history.
“When you appetite an American story, this is an American story. This is rags to riches. This is self-preservation,” Stevens said. “This is not a argent beanery in your mouth. This is adamantine work. This is determination. This is all the things that the cilia of America is about. It can be achieved.”
It’s the end of a four-hour conditioning affair on a boiling 90-degree day, but the kids appetite to end with one-on-ones. Butler, decrepit in sweat, obliges.
He curve up at receiver beyond from a kid the accumulation calls, “New Vicksburg.” Butler runs a coil and gets separation. The brawl hits him in stride appropriate in the hands, but the kid recovers to get a duke in there and Butler drops it.
The kids go wild, mobbing New Vicksburg. Butler flashes a advanced smile. He was tired, but he admits he wasn’t demography it accessible on him.
That’s what makes abiding home to host a chargeless football afflicted for the fourth afterwards year so special. Butler sees himself in these kids active hills, block a dream the apple assures them they won’t realize.
“If you assignment absolute adamantine at whatever you want, it will appear to you. I affiance you. I affiance you,” Butler proclaims to a accumulation of alert kids. “I acclimated to assignment at Popeyes. Now I can buy one.”
Butler’s flaws accomplish him absolute for abounding of these Vicksburg kids. Everyone’s activity is abounding with ups and downs, acceptable and bad, alike a Super Bowl champion.
“I’ve accomplished Steve McNair, Donald Driver and Malcolm Butler. They got the aforementioned demeanor, drive, abasement and personality,” said Stevens, who accomplished McNair and Driver during his time as an abettor drillmaster at Alcorn State from 1990 to 1998. “Give them a brace of shorts, cast flops, and a fishing rod and they’ll be good. They never got too acceptable for anyone. Consistently ‘Yes sir, yes ma’am.’ He reminds me so abundant of Mac.”
Ryan added: “I acquired so abundant account for him because he didn’t change as a person. He’s still the aforementioned guy as he was aback he was a cipher aggravating to accomplish the roster.”
Right afterwards his adolescence camp, Butler went to see one of his above coworkers at Popeyes who was bedridden afterwards a stroke. The alliance was raw and emotional. Butler never mentioned it. He didn’t appetite cameras there. He didn’t appetite any credit. He aloof acquainted it was appropriate to be there for the adolescent man. That’s additionally who Malcolm Butler is.
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The Titans did their homework, but never anon asked Butler about Super Bowl LII afore signing him.
An ascendance alignment headed by Robinson, a above Patriots scout, and drillmaster Mike Vrabel didn’t alternate to accomplish the big five-year, $61.25 actor advance in Butler.
“You accept to accomplish abundant contacts to amount out what makes a guy tick. We did our assignment there,” Robinson said. “You get a abundance akin with a accommodation that you’re activity to accomplish and either aback up or move forward. We confused forward.”
“Tennessee aggravating to win. We’re aggravating to win,” said Butler, who chose the Titans over the Chicago Bears. Afterwards what happened in Super Bowl LII, Butler said there was no adventitious he would re-sign with the Patriots.
The declared facts of the analytical Butler benching are this: Butler was ailing with flu-like symptoms. Aggregation doctors anticipation Butler could put added players at risk, so they carefully had him breach abaft one day aback the aggregation larboard for Minneapolis on Monday. Butler absent Super Bowl media night but accustomed in time to appear the week’s practices. Butler, who played 98 percent of the Patriots’ arresting snaps during the 2017 season, absolutely fell abaft a bit on the bold plan and had a asperous anniversary in practice. He was alternating in convenance with Eric Rowe, who started in abode of him.
“This the better bold of the year, so you gotta shoot your best gun or your best shot,” Butler said. “Preparation is the best way to win. And maybe they didn’t see 100 percent, mentally or physically, Malcolm Butler that they usually see.”
Butler denies all belief that off-the-field issues such as missing alarm or accessory a Rick Ross concert occurred during Super Bowl week. Butler planned to breach quiet, but the rumors started to get to him.
“It was absolute tough,” Butler said. “Most the time I’m not gonna say anything, I’m aloof gonna chill, comedy football. I usually aloof absorb my L or booty whatever the analysis dealt, whatever the situation. But it was accepting out of hand. I had to say something.”
Butler appear an affecting account on amusing media acclamation the bearings two canicule afterwards Super Bowl LII. Belichick alleged it carefully a “football decision.”
Much of the sports apple is assertive there’s added to the story. The acceptance is there’s a smoker gun actuality kept secret. Butler has chock-full aggravating to amount it all out and concludes it was addition archetype of Belichick authoritative a able decision. This one aloof didn’t pay off.
“Everybody was afraid that happened in the Super Bowl. But I’m not afraid that happened over there. Sometimes it’s like that over there for whatever acumen it may be,” said Ryan, who considers Butler one of his abutting friends. “What they do works in their own way. It didn’t assignment that day. Stuff has been done like that in the accomplished and it’s worked. Bill Belichick is the greatest drillmaster of all time. But I’m not afraid with that. Everybody is dispensable in the NFL. That’s one affair you’ll absolutely apprentice over there. It’s a assignment for everybody.
“He didn’t charge to avert himself. He didn’t get the adventitious to avert himself or say his side, which is fine. I apperceive it was a boxy year for him. We talked on the buzz and via text. I was actual acquainted of the situation. I acquainted abhorrent for him. I apperceive he’s hungry. I apperceive aftermost year it wore on him with the arrangement and added pressure, but I anticipate he’s aback to his chargeless cocky and aflame to prove bodies wrong.”
The Patriots comedy the Titans on Nov. 11 in Nashville. They don’t appetite to accessory too far ahead, but Butler, Ryan and addition above Patriot now with the Titans — active aback Dion Lewis — accept already circled that date on the schedule.
Belichick alleged Butler to say congratulations and acknowledge Butler for his contributions afterwards he active with Tennessee. Butler accepted it. Belichick additionally accepted the alignment he picked.
“No bad claret amid me and Bill Belichick,” Butler said. “One of the greatest coaches anytime and I affliction about him, I apperceive he affliction about me. And this a aching bold sometimes and it can accessory altered than what it is. But that’s my guy. … I got a lot of account for him.”
Vicksburg’s Headquarters Beautician and Beauty Boutique has to change its blush arrangement again.
This has been Butler’s barbershop aback he was a kid. “It feels like home,” Butler says. The floors are checky with Patriots blue. The window linings and beautician capes are all Patriots blue, too.
“You a Steelers fan, ain’t you,” Butler asks Geno Williams, the boutique owner.
“Man, I’m your fan,” Williams responds. “Titan Up. I was a New England fan, now I’m a Tennessee fan. I’m activity to change the colors to Titan dejected soon.”
Butler already brand Nashville. It’s a slower pace, added like Vicksburg than Boston. Arrangement pressure, which abnormally afflicted his comedy aftermost season, is gone. He affairs to comedy chargeless again.
Vrabel’s barbarous bluntness and hands-on access intrigues Butler. He’s accepting added fun with the Titans’ accessory than he has in a continued time. Abounding of his teammates accept agnate underdog stories.
“If I had aboriginal aces from anybody to anytime comedy with, it would be Malcolm,” Ryan said. “He fears nobody. We aces anniversary added up. He competes. He finishes everything. He’s a abate guy, but he’s got a huge affection and plays with a dent on his shoulder. I got a lot of account for him.”
That jibes with what awash Robinson on Butler. Robinson loves his film, adventure and able access to the game. Everyone he talked to kept advertence two things about Butler: he’s awful aggressive and he cares about his teammates.
One day afterwards signing his big Titans contract, Butler was at the ability weight allowance alive out at 7 a.m. and on the acreage active at 8 a.m.
“I feel defended with my contract. And I can put aggregate abaft me. I can go out there and aloof focus on football,” said Butler, who has eight interceptions and 44 passes defensed over the accomplished three seasons. “Not alone apple-pie plate, new team, new city, aforementioned athirst guy. So it’s time to run it up again.”
Butler’s adventure is added than aloof his two Super Bowl moments, and he’s acquisitive to address the abutting affiliate in Tennessee. He affairs to comedy like the Malcolm Butler who formed the fryer at Popeyes cat-and-mouse for aloof one baby adventitious to accomplish an NFL team.
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“Oh, yes, yes. I got a lot to prove and accomplishments allege louder than words. But you’ll see me this year,” Butler said. “I got some burden congenital up, so I’ll be ready.”
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