Last year's hero, Malcolm Butler, soaks up Super Bowl scene

SAN FRANCISCO (Tribune News Service) — The disappointment on Malcolm Butler’s face was genuine.

Butler couldn’t attend the Pro Bowl last week because he sprained his knee in the AFC Championship Game against the Broncos, and the Patriots cornerback was crestfallen yesterday when discussing the injury.

“There was a play on third down when I made a tackle or something like that and bent my knee back,” Butler told the Herald at the Moscone Center. “It swelled up pretty bad. I didn’t feel it during the game because of all the adrenaline pumping. When we got back, it swelled up pretty bad, and the team just decided it was a good thing to sit me out.

“I really, really hate that I missed my first Pro Bowl. I really do. I feel like I let my teammates down, my fans down. I’m too much of a competitor not to go out there and show my respect. The honor that comes from the NFL and the players, I would never disrespect anything like that.”

Butler doesn’t need surgery, as he is just resting and icing the injury to get it back in working order.

“It’s good,” Butler said of the knee. “I’ve been icing it, just taking care of it. It’s good to go.”

Butler was still having a blast soaking up the Super Bowl 50 festivities, and he recognized once again how drastically his life has changed over the past year. The Super Bowl XLIX hero was bombarded by fans from all allegiances who asked for photos and autographs, and he obliged every request.

A 49ers fan even asked him for a second picture when the first came out fuzzy, while a Patriots fan showed Butler the home screen on his cell phone, which was a shot of Butler’s famous interception against the Seahawks. And Butler has even been approached by players from other teams who wanted to show their respect for his game.

“Just enjoying my time off and seeing what this experience is like,” Butler said. “I’m realizing the impact and the respect I get from some of these fans and players and coaches. I see fans with other teams’ jerseys on and asking for a picture or to sign something, and that’s just the business of the NFL. But at the same time, it shows me a lot that people are watching.”

Quarterbacks targeting Butler this season were 63-of-114 (55.3 percent) for 940 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions over 18 games. He also had a team-high 17 pass breakups.

Those numbers weren’t overly gaudy, but he routinely marked the opposing team’s best receiver without any safety help. And the respect he’s earned around the league, validated by the Pro Bowl honor, has been undeniable. Butler has held himself to a higher standard, though.

“It could have been better,” Butler said of his season. “It could have been a whole lot better. That’s all I can say. I’ve got to make the plays when they present themselves.”

Butler will eventually resume training for the 2016 season. He’ll start in Alabama but is considering other ideas and hopes to link up with some other cornerbacks who can share new ideas. He said he is open to anything that will improve his game.

And maybe, if the Patriots aren’t in the Super Bowl, he’ll get another crack at the Pro Bowl.

“That’s the goal,” Butler said. “That’s what you’ve got to do.”

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