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We Still Don't Know Why Malcolm Butler is Retiring. Just That His Story Will Live Forever.

It's pretty remarkable to think that, less than two weeks ago, Malcolm Butler stood on the same field where he made the greatest play in NFL history talking about getting a fresh start in Arizona, only to see it end so soon. 

Since that interview, the league has confirmed that Butler has been officially placed on the injured/retired reverse list. I've held off posting about this, hoping there'd be some sort of explanation. But still no more details about the "personal situation" have been revealed.

So you do what you can, I guess. Do what the situation calls for. Which is to respect Butler's privacy. And until we understand what the circumstances of this surprising decision are, you do not speculate as to the cause. You merely pay tribute to the man and his place in sports history. Which is eternal. 

Bear in mind, that when I said he made the best play in NFL history, I'm not defining that in terms of how athletic or acrobatic it was. What I'm saying is it was the most impactful. The most dramatic. The most significant. A play that came out of nowhere from a guy a majority of casual fans of his own team couldn't identify by his number. Who didn't start the Super Bowl. But was pressed into emergency duty when an equally obscure Seahawk's receiver, Chris Mathews, kept abusing Patriots slot corner Kyle Arrington and forcing Butler to sub in for him. 

It's most likely that if you had heard Butler's name before the play I'm talking about, you did when he made an incredible recovery on a rub play to break up a deep ball to Jermaine Kearse. And then recovered again after this insane catch by Kearse, that happened on the same side of the same field where David Tyree made The Helmet Catch:


… and would've won the game for Seattle had Butler not kept his wits about him, played to the whistle and knocked Kearse out of bounds to set up his superlative play:

That one killed a dynasty and jump-started another one. The defending champions imploded into shock, dissention and anarchy. Butler's team went to three of the next four Super Bowls and won two. 

Any undrafted rookie athlete in any sport would be tempted to just live off that moment for the rest of his life. Settle into a career of giving motivational speeches while eating baked stuffed chicken and rice pilaf on the lecture circuit. But not Butler. The next year he was a starter. The year after that, the Patriots tendered him a restricted free agent contract. For now I'll skip the part about how badly it ended in New England and go right to the positives about how he signed a free agent deal with the Titans for $61 million, $30 million of it guaranteed, and played three seasons there. Admittedly, there were a couple of lean years in there. But the Titans became a playoff contender on his watch. And 2020 was a huge bounce back year for Butler, with almost 100 tackles, five interceptions, 11 passes broken up and a respectable 78.6 passer rating when targeted. Plus the 33rd highest overall grade at his position according to Pro Football Focus. So it would've been interesting to see how things played out for him in Arizona at the age of 31. Sorry we won't get the chance. 

Hopefully whatever has derailed his career will resolve itself and Butler can get back on the field some time in the near future. Regardless, few players in the history of the game can claim they made a play anywhere near as historic and iconic as him. Not the worst legacy for a UDFA out of West Alabama to have. Best of luck to him.