The Super Bowl Was Six Months Ago. What Happened With Malcolm Butler?

Analyzing the biggest mystery in sports in 2018 ahead of the Patriots vs. Eagles preseason game.

August 16, 2018 5:00 am
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: New England Patriots Malcolm Butler stands on sideline during 4th quarter of Super Bowl LII. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 4: New England Patriots Malcolm Butler stands on sideline during 4th quarter of Super Bowl LII. The New England Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Tonight when the Philadelphia Eagles take on the New England Patriots in Foxborough, cornerback Malcolm Butler won’t be on the field for the hometown team.

This time, unlike when Butler rode the bench for all of Super Bowl LII sans one snap on special teams, we know the reason: Butler is no longer on New England’s roster.

As for the reason why Butler didn’t play against the Eagles in February, well, that’s been as closely guarded a secret as KFC’s secret recipe, the location of Flight MH370, or the final whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa.

There have been hints. Slight, tiny, Patriot-sized leaks. And, since you may have missed some (or all) of ’em, we’ve got everything that’s anything which has been said about the benching by the primary parties involved -Butler, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia – all in one place below.

After that, we’ve got our best guess about what actually went down to turn Super Bowl XLIX’s hero into Super Bowl LII’s goat.

Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts alongside Malcolm Butler #21 and Akeem Ayers #54 after defeating the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium on November 2, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Patricia on the benching after the Super Bowl: “We were just trying to run some packages we had on defense, and those guys that were out there for all the situations that we needed them for. So it kind of turned out that way, and the game, with the way it went and some of the situations that came up, that was just kind of the way it went … We’re just trying to put everybody in the right spot to make plays – the guys that we thought could make the plays in the right situation.”

Butler on the benching after the Super Bowl: “They gave up on me. F-ck. It is what it is It was a coach’s decision. I was just doing my job and supporting my teammates. I have nothing but great things to say about the organization. They gave me an opportunity. That’s about it.”

Belichick on the benching after the Super Bowl: “I respect Malcolm’s competitiveness, and I’m sure that he felt like he could have helped. I’m sure other players felt the same way. In the end, we have to make the decisions that we feel are best for the football team, and that’s what we did, that’s what I did. There are a lot of things that go into that. In the end, the final decision is what I said it was.”

Patricia on the benching in February after joining the Lions: “I’m going to be extremely respectful to coach Belichick and his organization and I’m going to let him answer any questions that have to do with the Patriots. I have obviously a lot of love for New England, but I have a new team. I would characterize my relationship with Malcolm as extremely strong. I love Malcolm a lot. Like all my players, he’s like one of my sons. I want to make sure that he does everything to the best and I hope the best for him. That’s really all I’m going to say about Malcolm.”

Butler on the benching in March after joining the Titans: “I never got a reason. I feel like this was the reason: I got kind of sick. I went to the hospital. They probably thought I was kind of late on the game plan; I wasn’t as locked in as I should be and could have been a matchup deal. It could have been anything. But Bill Belichick has been doing this for a very long time. He took a veteran out of Super Bowl XLIX and put in a first-year rookie, and that turned out right, so you could never question his decision.”

Belichick on the benching in March: “I have a lot of respect for Malcolm. From the day he got here, in rookie minicamp four years ago, he’s always competed as hard as he could. He always is a great competitor on the field. I totally respect that. I’m not going to get into last year, I’m not going to get into next year or some other year. I talked to Malcolm. I wish him well in Tennessee.”

Butler on the benching last month: “This the biggest game of the year, so you gotta shoot your best gun or your best shot. Preparation is the best way to win. And maybe they didn’t see 100 percent, mentally or physically, Malcolm Butler that they usually see. No bad blood between me and Bill Belichick. One of the greatest coaches ever and I care about him, I know he cares about me. And this a hurtful game sometimes and it can look different than what it is. But that’s my guy. I got a lot of respect for him.”

Belichick on the benching last month: “Last year is last year. I am not focused on last year. We talked about that. That was multiple months ago.”

Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots intercepts a pass by Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks intended for Ricardo Lockette #83 late in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Thought it takes different forms, the theme that runs through most of those comments is that the benching was a football decision that was possibly influenced by Butler’s health and preparation level, but had nothing to do with disciplinary measures or an off-field incident.

And, if you think about it, that explanation makes sense. Nothing scandalous has come out because there was nothing scandalous that actually went down in early February in Minnesota.

It was a really, really bad one, but it was a football decision.

If it wasn’t, one of the players who left New England for greener pastures following the Super Bowl (Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Nate Solder to name a few), would have pulled back the curtain. No longer under the rule of Belichick, they’d have every reason in the world to make their cantankerous old coach look bad for costing the team the Super Bowl over something that had nothing to do with what was happening on the field.

Internally too, with all the well-documented dysfunction within the Patriots organization, if there was something to come out, it’s only logical to think that it would have by now. A cut player, a disgruntled staffer, a fired employee – someone would have said spilled the beans.

Instead, silence.

After all, “If You See Something, Say Something,” only works if there is something to see. In this case, there wasn’t, other than a 65-year-old football coach making an awful choice that was so badly out of character that no one could believe that’s actually all it was.

FOXBOROUGH, MA – JANUARY 21: Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots reacts in the fourth quarter during the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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That theory could be incorrect and it is still always a possibility that someone, possibly even Butler himself, will spill the beans about what did or didn’t happen leading up to the biggest benching in Super Bowl history.

But, considering it has been six months and we don’t know much more than we did in the aftermath of New England’s 41-33 loss, we may never know what, if anything, Butler did.

At least until the Butler biopic comes out.

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