Super Bowl hero Butler did it first at MOH Bowl

New England strong safety Malcolm Butler (21) intercepts a pass intended for Seattle wide receiver Ricardo Lockette (83) in the final minute of Sunday's Super Bowl to secure the Patriots' 28-24 victory.(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler was still trending on Twitter on Monday, a day after his game-saving interception in the New England Patriots’ 28-24 win over Seattle on Sunday night.

Butler also was hard to miss a year ago at the inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl in Charleston, a game that played no small part in Butler’s amazing rise from a Popeyes chicken restaurant employee to NFL player and Super Bowl star.

“I remember seeing him every day at practice,” says Austin Atkinson, the deputy director of player personnel for the Medal of Honor Bowl. “Every time he made a play — and he made a lot of them — he’d pound on his chest and yell, ‘Mr. D2! Mr. D2!’

“He was so proud of being from a Division II school. He was one of only a few Division II players we had in the game, and he was making plays all week.”

Medal of Honor Bowl coach Chan Gailey — now the offensive coordinator of the New York Jets — was so impressed with Butler, a 5-11, 190-pound cornerback from West Alabama, that he recommended him to Patriots coach Bill Belichick for a tryout. The Patriots signed Butler last May; he received no signing bonus.

Butler, from Vicksburg, Miss., began his college career at nearby Hinds Community College. Five games into his freshman season, he was dismissed from the program and worked at a Popeyes before getting a second chance at West Alabama.

Butler was twice an all-Gulf South Conference pick at West Alabama, and he picked off a pass in the first Medal of Honor Bowl. With the Patriots this season, he played 52 snaps on special teams and 184 on defense during the season. He didn’t get into the Super Bowl until the Patriots’ 32nd snap on defense, when Butler subbed in for Kyle Arrington as the nickel cornerback.

Butler was the defensive back victimized by a miracle catch by Seahawks’ receiver Jermaine Kearse, putting Seattle on the 5-yard line with a chance to win the game. Two plays later, Butler knifed in front of Seattle receiver Ricardo Lockette to pick off a slant pass at the goal-line with 20 seconds to play.

On ESPN radio Monday morning, talking heads debated whether the Medal of Honor Bowl alumnus had made the greatest play in Super Bowl history.

“It was just amazing to see a kid like that come out of nowhere and make the most of his opportunity,” Atkinson said.