VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — The day before the Super Bowl that would change Malcolm Butler’s life, he posted a picture of the Vicksburg city seal on his Facebook page, thanking family and friends for supporting him during his journey to football’s biggest stage.It was clear Butler loves his hometown.
Now Vicksburg — a town of about 25,000 people perched above the Mississippi River — gets a chance to love him back.
“His story is phenomenal,” said Mayor George Flaggs Jr. “Just like the play he made in the Super Bowl.”
The reason for Butler’s instant fame is now well known: In the final seconds, the undrafted rookie defensive back intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass at the goal line to seal the Super Bowl victory for the New England Patriots over the Seattle Seahawks.
Since then he’s appeared on the “Today Show” and “Tonight Show” and even “intercepted” an envelope at the Grammy Awards.
Now, he’ll be honored in a setting that’s a little more familiar.
Vicksburg has declared this “Malcolm Butler Week” and will have a parade in his honor on Saturday. It’ll be another hard-to-fathom moment for the 24-year-old, who said his life has gone from “zero to 100” in the past three weeks.
“It took me a couple days to realize what I did,” Butler said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “I’m enjoying it and embracing it. I know (the fame is) not going to last forever, but that play will be remembered forever.”
Butler said he was back in Vicksburg for a few days earlier this week, spending time with family and close friends. He said he’s trying to keep a low profile because public appearances cause a commotion.
That won’t be possible on Saturday.
Butler’s high school football coach Alonzo Stevens said part of the player’s popularity comes from his unlikely rise to fame. The people in the town can relate to him and his imperfect past.
Stevens said Butler showed promise during his freshman season at Vicksburg High, but he missed the next two because of academic problems.
“What I loved him about him more than anything is when he messed up on the football field or in life, he owned up to it,” Stevens said. “He never passed the buck. He’s a hard worker and a fairy-tale story.”
The coach admits Butler was off his radar by his senior season until a surprise turnaround.
“He told me he had his grades right and he wanted to play football again,” Stevens said. “I figured, ‘Well, he could hold the practice dummies or play special teams.'”
It wasn’t the last time Butler would be underestimated.
He quickly became one of the stars for Vicksburg, but his success came so late that colleges barely knew he existed. He ended up at Hinds Community College, just outside of Jackson, where he played as a freshman before he said he was kicked off the team following a scuffle with a campus security guard.
Then it was back to Vicksburg, where Butler worked part time at the fast-food restaurant Popeyes to earn some extra money while he took classes at nearby Alcorn State University. Eventually, he earned his way back onto the Hinds football team and then played two seasons at West Alabama, a NCAA Division II school.
“As I look back now, I kind of enjoyed the getting back on track,” Butler said. “I had a lot of doubters.”
Not anymore. Vicksburg’s principal Deowarski McDonald, who was a teacher and assistant principal when Butler attended, said the story can inspire. On Wednesday afternoon, a handful of students were working on building a giant football that would be part of a float during the parade.
“What you see is what you get with Malcolm,” McDonald said. “He’s very humble, very respectful, mild-mannered and considerate. That’s why I think people are so interested in knowing more about him.”
McDonald said Butler had an interest in his hometown school long before he became a Super Bowl hero. During the Patriots’ bye week, Butler returned to talk to the football team and offer a few words of encouragement.
Flaggs said it’s one of the many reasons Butler will be presented with a key to the city.
“How many people can say I want to be an NFL player while wearing a Popeyes uniform, and then actually become the Super Bowl hero?” Flaggs said. “That’s phenomenal. That won’t happen again in our lifetime.”