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Let's Revisit the Way Malcolm Butler's Interception Broke the Seahawks

With the Patriots and Seahawks facing each other for just the second time since Super Bowl XLIX, there couldn't be a better excuse to dust off this old chestnut. From Kraft Productions' own "Do Your Job," it's one of the most compelling and insightful 13 minutes of viewing in the history of NFL cinema. Malcolm Butler being inserted in the game after Chris Matthews started to abuse Kyle Arrington. Bill Belichick admitting Arrington was a streaky player who had gotten rattled. The Seahawks targeting Butler twice and him responding both times with great recovery plays. Dont'a Hightower's ridiculous and criminally overlooked stop of Marshawn Lynch on 1st & goal. Belichick not taking the time out. Just being completely present in the moment and Jedi Mind Tricking Pete Carroll into running the ball. And of course Brian Flores' instant catchphrase, "Malcolm, GO!!!" 

Then? HISTORY. But not before we get the surreal footage of the Patriots practicing that week against that very formation with those very same defenders lined up where they'd end up being with the championship on the line. Except in practice, Butler sat back, didn't jump the route and the scout team scored. So the rookie got the coaching point that would end up winning the game and the ring. While giving lie to the notion the Pats win because they cheat or tape walkthroughs and bug locker rooms or whatever other nonsensical allegations get leveled at them. The win because they work harder, prepare better and are better equipped to play smart when everything is on the line. 

All things considered, I think it's the biggest play not just in Patriots history, but in the history of the NFL. It determined the fate of two dynasties. In the way that the Many Worlds Theory of quantum physics states that two mechanical systems will become entangled in such a way as make the world branch into two separate universes, the fates of two franchises were changed forever. Thanks to the UDFA out of West Alabama remembering what he was taught on the practice field and trusting in himself to execute when the stakes could not have been greater, the New England's Dynasty was reignited after going 10 years without a championship. While Seattle's basically died in infancy.

And make no mistake, the Seahawks of the 2010s were about to be called a dynasty. The season before they dominated the most prolific offense in pro football history, beating the 2013 Broncos 43-8. A win over New England would've meant they'd beaten each of the two most celebrated quarterbacks of the last 20 years. They would've been favorites to threepeat and there was no end in sight. 

But that interception changed it all. By the words of some of the 2014 Seahawks themselves. And so it's worth revisiting how they've described the aftermath of that game

ESPN the Mag - According to interviews with numerous current and former Seahawks players, coaches and staffers, few have taken it harder than Richard Sherman. He has told teammates and friends that he believes the Seahawks should have won multiple Super Bowls by now. And with just one trophy and the window closing fast, he has placed responsibility for that failing on the two faces of the franchise: Wilson and [Pete] Carroll. … He’s been disillusioned not only by that single play more than two years earlier but also by his coach’s and quarterback’s response to it. …

Wilson has said that he, like Carroll, made peace with the Butler interception immediately, chalking it up to the plan of a higher power. That spring Wilson chartered a trip for the entire team to Hawaii … the hours players spent on the trip at the edge of a cliff, rehashing the play, airing grievances. Wilson, in the vein of Carroll, doubled down by saying that he’d throw to receiver Ricardo Lockette again. …

It was unbelievable: Less than three weeks before the [2016] playoffs, Sherman was bringing up the Butler interception. Some players felt that if Carroll had just once stood before the team and apologized for not ramming Marshawn Lynch into New England’s front from the 1-yard line — a front that had stuffed him on short yardage twice earlier — they would have had closure. But Carroll never apologized. And won’t. By calling a pass, he wanted to maximize his scoring chances and preserve his last timeout. Bill Belichick has backed the rationale more than Carroll’s own team.

Carroll tried to rally the team before the playoffs, but Sherman dismissed the effort as a routine “kumbaya” meeting. Even some of Sherman’s defensive teammates privately felt he had crossed a line.

It simply broke their spirit. Like a family that suffers a tragedy and can't face one another without thinking about it, the Seahawks had to break up. Defensive players reportedly resented Carroll's supposed preferential treatment of Wilson. Sherman was picking his QB off in practice and screaming "You fucking SUCK!!!" And as soon as they could get out, most of them did.

And this narrative of a broken, fractured team who'd never recover from the world-changing play was confirmed by none other than Warren Moon, a Hall of Famer who covers the team for the Seahawks Radio Network. 

“They are still having a hangover from [2014], if you can believe it or not, about losing that Super Bowl in the last minute with the interception on the one-yard line. And with a lot of guys, it just kind of rubbed them the wrong way and they just haven’t gotten over it. This team will not be able to move on and really do what they want to do which is win another Super Bowl unless they can somehow put that behind them.”

Maybe Moon is right andd they will eventually put that behind them. But it won't be the same team. It's already too late for that. Within a four years or less, there were only a handful of 2014 players still on Seattle's roster. Like the Pats did to the Falcons a couple of seasons later and perhaps the Rams two seasons after that (the jury is still out), once they break a great team, that team stays broken. They don't beat you. They burn down your village, steal all your animals and salt your fields so you never recover. 

And six years later, it's still as much fun as it was then. 

See you Sunday night, 12th Man.