Almasi: Unlikely stars shine bright in Superbowl XLIX

Dan Almasi, Sports Editor

Two months ago, NFL wide receiver Chris Matthews was not on an NFL roster. He was working at a Foot Locker when he received a tryout offer from the Seattle Seahawks in November. He made his first career NFL reception on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX, a 44-yard reception over Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington that set up a game-tying 3-yard Marshawn Lynch touchdown run. He finished the game with three receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown, albeit in a losing effort.

This past May, Malcolm Butler went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. He was working at a Popeye’s fast food restaurant before being signed as an undrafted free agent by the New England Patriots. He made his first career NFL interception in the waning seconds of Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday to secure the Patriots’ Championship win.

It almost seems unfair that there are NFL legends in the Hall of Fame who have never played in a Super Bowl, while there are players like Matthews and Butler, who shined brightly on the NFL’s biggest stage before even glimmering in the regular season.

I figure there’s a voice inside, however deep it may be, telling guys like Butler and Matthews in such a situation, “I shouldn’t be here. I don’t deserve to be here.” After all, what had they done to help put their respective teams in the Super Bowl? The realistic answer is almost nothing.

Matthews played in three regular season games for the Seahawks, recording no catches. His lone impact during the regular season was a special teams tackle. Matthews did, though, recover an onside kick against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, a critical play which gave his team an opportunity to score and win in overtime.

Butler appeared in 11 games for the Patriots during the 2014 NFL season, starting in just one. He recorded 15 tackles and defended three passes. His Super Bowl-winning interception will go down as one of the most important plays in NFL history and will forever have an immense, positive impact on the legacy on one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all-time – Tom Brady.

Perhaps another voice said something like, “Seize the moment. This is your shot.” And what a shot it is, making your first big plays as a professional football player in the pinnacle of the game, in front of the largest audience in all of American sports. Butler and Matthews chose to listen to that voice.

One can only imagine what raced through Butler’s head as he locked in on Russell Wilson, made a beeline from the back of the end zone to the goal-line, stepped in front of Ricardo Lockette and made what will likely be the greatest play of his NFL career. One can only imagine what Butler thought as he raised the Lombardi Trophy above his head. Perhaps it felt like an alternate reality. For Butler, the Lombardi Trophy held high above his head could just as easily have been a pair of shoes in a cardboard box being hoisted onto a Foot Locker shelf.