PHOENIX, Ariz. – Tom Brady won the Pete Rozelle Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLIX, but on the sports world’s biggest stage, there were two smaller names doing big things, too.
For the Seahawks, it was a 6-foot-5 receiver making his first NFL impression an unforgettable one, even if it was in a losing effort.
Receiver Chris Matthews tried to make it in the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2011 with the Cleveland Browns but was released at the end of training camp. He tried the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League and Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League in 2012.
It wasn’t until 2014 that he got his first shot at an NFL game, and even then he played in only four games during the regular season, all without as much as a single catch. But while Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis and others tending to more accomplished receivers on the other side of the field, Matthews was making a bigger and more consistent impression on his own.
After not having caught a pass in the regular season or the previous two playoff games, he ended the Super Bowl with four catches for 109 yards and a touchdown.
“This is huge for me right now, just being able to finish the game and do what I did,” he said. “Now I feel like I should come back and work extremely hard.”
As if he didn’t already do that to get to this point. He took the circuitous route to the NFL, needing three years to garner much more than a per diem check from the league. Yet, despite his first taste of success, he found plenty to critique in his game and wonder – like every Seahawk that found himself on the losing end – what more he might have done to change the outcome.
“I didn’t have a perfect game. I messed up on a couple routes. Who knows? Maybe if I hadn’t messed up on a couple routes and been in the right place at the right time we wouldn’t have been in that situation,” Matthews said. “We probably would have had a whole different turnout.”
The situation he referenced was the result of another undrafted rookie making the single biggest play of the game. Matthews might have had his first Super Bowl win and Seattle its second straight if not for the heroics of New England rookie Malcolm Butler, an undrafted type from West Alabama.
The Seahawks need only one yard for the game-winning touchdown and had three plays to accomplish that with 20 seconds remaining. Butler changed all that in a goal-line instant when the Seahawks attempted to cross up Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
Butler stepped in front of Russell Wilson’s intended target, Ricardo Lockette, for a goal-line interception that changed what looked to be a second straight Super Bowl win for Seattle.
“Awesome. Everybody do your job. We call him scrap because the first time we saw him he was so scrappy and he found himself around the ball all the time,” 11-year veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said of rookie teammate Butler, “and I think that was one of the main reasons he was in the game.”
Scrappy Doo did it. His interception sealed the Super Bowl for the Patriots in a 28-24 win.
“I made a play to help my team win,” Butler said. “I’ve worked so hard in practice and I just wanted to play so bad and help my team out. I got out there and did exactly what I needed to do to help my team win.”
Unfortunately for Matthews, Butler’s one big play took the splendor – and the win – away from Seattle. The expected glory turned gory.
“I’m not a selfish player,” Matthews said. “I’m definitely a team player and I don’t care if I don’t have even one pass, one yard, one tackle – it wouldn’t have mattered to me as long as we had won the game and I would have made an influence in any way. I would have been happy with a win with no stats.”
Instead, it was no win but a plenty of impressive stats for a 25-year-old rookie out of the University of Kentucky.
“It was definitely tough, but we’re built off of finishing and we definitely didn’t finish toward the end,” Matthews said. “Certain mistakes that we made and we have to live with it.”
While Tom Brady won his fourth Super Bowl and third Super Bowl MVP, it was Matthews and Butler that found fame in the desert.
Undrafted, unknown rookies make Super impact
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