Super Bowl XLIX is in the books. The New England Patriots prevailed over the Seattle Seahawks 28-24, handing a fourth Lombardi Trophy to head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. The latter added an MVP award (and a shiny new truck) to those accolades.
No, the real story of Super Bowl XLIX was a pair of young free agents who rose from obscurity to shine on football's biggest night.
Well, that and send folks scrambling to Google the names Malcolm Butler and Chris Matthews—because the vast majority of people had no clue who they were.
Of course, that's not entirely fair. Matthews made a bit of a name for himself two weeks ago, when he recovered the onside kick that kept the Seahawks' historic comeback going against the Green Bay Packers.
As a receiver, though, Matthews hadn't made much of a dent in 2014. As in a grand total of zero catches all season.
Matthews, who played two years in the CFL before bouncing on and off the Seahawks' practice squad for much of the 2014 season, told Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com after the NFC Championship Game that his status as an undrafted free agent helped keep him hungry:
It’s because this team understands talent. And they know we’re going to be hungry and we’re going to come in here and work. Not to take anything away from players who were drafted, but it’s more of an edge with us because drafted guys basically have a guaranteed spot. With us, we’re fighting to get a spot and to keep a spot.
Matthews likely won't have to worry so much about that spot because he ate like a big dog against the Patriots.
|Chris Matthews Super Bowl XLIX|
|First Career NFL TD|
It was Matthews whose long catch from Wilson help set up the Seahawks' first score:
It was Matthews who caught the pass that tied the game just before the half:
When the Seahawks appeared in control of the game as the fourth quarter began, there was very real talk that it would be Matthews who would win the game's MVP award—and that truck:
That was, until one of the wildest fourth quarters in Super Bowl history unfolded.
The Patriots roared back to take a late lead with just over two minutes remaining in the game. A completion to Marshawn Lynch and another to Jermaine Kearse (which brought back memories of the David Tyree "helmet catch") set up the Seahawks with 1st-and-goal with under a minute left.
And then, after a Lynch run, the game's second undrafted star received his cue:
Actually, it was a game-sealing interception that rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler received. As Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal reports, it culminated a remarkable story for a young man who not that long ago was working at a Popeyes chicken restaurant after getting kicked out of school:
In one fell swoop his football career almost came to crashing halt. After five games during his 2009 freshman season, Butler was kicked out of school. (Though he wouldn’t confirm the reason, the only arrest on his record shows a charge for possession of drug paraphernalia.)
It was that next year, in 2010, that he calls 'life-changing.' He got a part-time job at Popeyes and worked there for most the year before taking summer classes at Alcorn State University to get back on track. For the first time in his life, he missed football.
'That just made me realize how bad I wanted it and how bad I really needed it,' Butler said. 'You don’t know how good it is until it’s gone.'
Butler said after the game that his comeback was a dream come true:
With that said, though, in the eyes of teammate Vince Wilfork, Butler shares a common trait with Matthews:
And maybe that's the big takeaway from all this. Both Matthews and Butler took the scenic route to the NFL. Neither player was expected to do anything heading into the Super Bowl. Not by fans. Not by the media. Probably not by their own teams.
Not by anyone but themselves.
But when circumstances afforded them the opportunity to star on the NFL's biggest stage, both youngsters did the same thing they did with their second chances in football.
They took full advantage.
It's just a shame neither gets a truck for his troubles, although it's a safe bet that for Butler a ring beats a truck any day.
Especially when you're the hero of the Super Bowl—a role Matthews nearly had himself.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.