An Open Letter to Malcolm Butler

Dear Malcolm Butler,

First of all, thank you for your time with New England. Super Bowl 49 is a moment I will never forget. For a lot of personal reasons, that one Super Bowl against Seattle was easily my favorite. I was a junior in college, and watching that game with my friends in my dorm room was probably the greatest day of my life at the time. The new greatest day of my life is when I asked by fiancé to marry me, but I digress.

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This image will never not make me smile

Image credit: LA Times

I wish you nothing but the best in the future. Now, I know technically you could still come back to the Patriots, but we both know that won’t happen. That ship probably sailed the second the Pats signed Stephon Gilmore. Any chance of you coming back completely vanished when the coaches inexplicably benched you for the whole of Super Bowl 52.

They gave you no warning, no explanation, and no reasoning for why they benched you. You couldn’t see the game even when Eric Rowe and Johnson Bademosi let up multiple passes and Jordan Richards was playing dime. They disrespected you, and you probably want to go somewhere where you feel appreciated. If I were you, I’d do the same thing. I think I speak for everyone in Patriots Nation when I say I hope you break the bank this offseason and get every damn penny you can.

While you may be gone, you won’t be forgotten. I still remember the way the 2014 offseason began. After getting two big name cornerbacks in Darelle Revis and Brandon Browner, all anyone could talk about in training camp was a scrappy cornerback from West Alabama. One month later, I remember you living up to the relative hype in that first preseason game against Washington.

I remember watching that first Super Bowl, and being amazed that the fifth-string cornerback was able to hold up against Russell Wilson on the game’s biggest stage. I remember being amazed that you had the awareness to push Jermaine Kearse out of bounds after he hauled in that miraculous catch.

And of course, I remember what happened next. I’m ashamed to admit it, but after the two Giants Super Bowls, I had given up on the game. I was still watching when the interception happened, but I knew Seattle was about to score. After you beat Ricardo Lockette to the football, my mind processed it as an incompletion. My friend remembers me saying “Nice breakup, Butler” before I realized it was an interception. I was jumping up and down, screaming like a fool and hugging anyone I could find.

You didn’t prove to just be a one-play wonder either. Somehow, you didn’t let the overnight fame get to your head. The Patriots let Revis go because they knew you were something special, and you proved them right. You went from bottom of the depth chart to number one corner over a single offseason. Week One of 2015 you went up against Antonio Brown of all people, and you held your own. You kept getting better and better, and you became one of the best in the league.

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Antonio Brown: Not the easiest receiver to face for your first start

Image credit: Boston Herald

It’s not just that you played well, it’s how you played. You played like a maniac despite your smaller frame. It’s rare to find a corner as willing to tackle and play as physically as you. I’m sure you played through your share of injuries, and I’ve always appreciated your toughness and heart. Frankly, players like you are in short supply in todays NFL.

You got even better in 2016, and your lockdown form was a big reason for the fifth Super Bowl win against Atlanta. Understandably, you wanted some financial security. You were still playing on an undrafted rookie’s contract, and you certainly exceeded that value. Instead, that money went to Gilmore.

You seeked out a trade, but when that fell through, you were the ultimate pro. Instead of becoming a distraction, you showed up and prepared like nothing was amiss. It wasn’t your best year, but you weren’t afraid to admit it. Prior to the Super Bowl, you openly admitted that this was a down season and you were looking for a chance to redeem yourself.

Responses like that were why you were one of my favorite Patriots and will remain one of my favorite players. It would have been easy to give a stock answer about not worrying about what the media says. Instead, you gave in to humility and admitted that you weren’t playing up to your standards, despite being one of the best bargains in the NFL.

Then the Super Bowl came. To not play you is one thing, but to not give you any notice is a completely different story. Seeing you crying before the game was heartbreaking, and not entering the game while the defense gave up 41 points and looked completely lost was an unforgivable move by the coaches.

Still, despite the emotions you were ready to go. Once it was clear you weren’t going into the game, you could have sulked around on the bench and waited for your Patriot tenure to end. Instead, you kept your helmet on, standing by the field, waiting for your number to be called.

Even after the game, you remained a class act. Despite being (justifiably) angry, you just said that “it is what it is” and that you were thankful for the opportunity to be a Patriot. Nobody would have blamed you had you spoke your mind, and most would have applauded you. But still, you took the high road, and it just shows what type of a person and a player New England will be missing out on.

I was hoping you’d be a Patriot for life, but obviously that’s not to be. Instead, I just want to say thank you, Malcolm Butler. You’ve been a great part of the team and an absolute joy to cheer for. You’ll always be loved in New England, and I wish you nothing but the best with your next team.

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This picture is good enough to use again

Image credit: LA Times


Cover image courtesy of SB Nation.