Was Malcolm Butler’s Interception the Most Important Play of All Time?


(You’ll have to click the link in the video to watch it on Youtube, but obviously, it’s worth it.)

Malcolm Butler saved the season, saved the Patriots’ legacy, and saved all of our sanity.  Just think of how great these past few days have been, and remember that they could have been the exact opposite had Butler not made one of the best plays ever.

It’s only fitting that we try to determine that play’s place in history.  You’ll notice that I put “most important” play in the title, not “best,” because I think it’s clear that it was not the best play ever from a standpoint of skill or anything else.  To crown something as the “best,” I think it’s gotta come down to skill and execution (and very little luck, sorry David Tyree), not just the magnitude of the game.  But was it the most important play ever?  I say yes.

Bill Barnwell’s awesome Super Bowl recap on Monday cited Brian Burke’s win probability calculator, saying that the Patriots had about a 12% chance of winning the Super Bowl after 1st down.  Think about that.  If you went back to August and thought about which teams had the best chances to win the Super Bowl 6 months later, you probably would have given the Patriots more than a 12%, or about 1 in 8, chance.  Hell, even from a purely mathematical standpoint in which you ignore seedings and basic common sense, the Patriots had a 1 in 8 chance entering the playoffs, because they were guaranteed to be 1 of 8 teams in the divisional round.  That’s how low the Pats’ chances of this awesome season working out had stooped.

And then Malcolm Butler put those chances up at 99%.  That’s an 87 (Gronk!) percent swing, which Barnwell noted was clearly the biggest swing of all time.

Now, let’s take the fact that that happened in the Super Bowl with 20 seconds to go, and let’s also factor in that Locklear clearly would have caught the ball had Butler not been there.  It was an amazing play that took the best possible break on the ball that a cornerback can have.  If you watch the play over and over, as I certainly have since Sunday night, you’ll be able to see that Butler sees Wilson look his way, as he said after the game, and then waits until he sees Locklear move in that direction just to make sure that’s actually the route he’s running — then BOOM, he’s running harder than he ever has to the exact spot where he knows the ball is coming.  And making that catch is nothing easy, either, as he’s 20 pounds lighter than Locklear and the ball bounces in between his right arm and shoulder pad.

And this Super Bowl was so important, even objectively.  This was the greatest QB of all time getting his 4th, 10 years after his 3rd, or the Super Bowl repeat of maybe the greatest defense ever.  Legacies flying up and down based on 1 play.  Add all this up, and it was definitely the most important play of all time, no question. Thanks Malcolm Butler.

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