By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Then-Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler's career truly started with one incredible, Super Bowl-winning play. Ironically, his career has since become defined by another Super Bowl. One that didn't even give him the chance to make a winning play.
Inexplicably benched for all of New England's 41-33 Super Bowl LII loss to the Philadelphia Eagles -- a loss that saw the Patriot defense melt into a total puddle incapable of getting a stop -- the mystery behind Patriots coach Bill Belichick's decision to bench Butler has really become a six-month ordeal for all involved. It's become perhaps the biggest "what if?" in a 21st century downright loaded with championship banners and parades for all four Boston teams, and especially for that team in Foxboro.
But it's a question that still seems follow the rags-to-riches Butler everywhere he goes, even as he's moved on to the Tennessee Titans, where he's thrived as their new No. 1 cornerback throughout training camp.
"Everywhere I go, people ask me why I didn't play in the Super Bowl and stuff like that," Butler told NFL.com. "Bar, restaurant, bathroom -- it doesn't even matter. They ask me why I didn't play and say, 'I'm sorry ...' I don't want to hear that s---.
"It's over with. I don't want anybody to feel sorry for me -- none of that. I'm gassed up and I'm ready to play."
In the immediate aftermath of that loss, Butler told ESPN that the Patriots had given up on him. Later in the offseason, Butler once again commented on the situation, saying that he never got a reason for the benching. But the continued hunt for legitimate answers has routinely come back Butler's way thanks to Belichick's decision to repeatedly dodge the question.
Belichick successfully danced around the question after the Super Bowl, during the offseason, and even before the start of training camp after a 'just doing our jobs' of an exchange with the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy late last month.
Even some of his own teammates with New England ties have wondered exactly what happened.
"It was tough to see," Logan Ryan, Butler's teammate in New England and now Tennessee, said. "I had talked to Malcolm before the game and kind of knew a little bit going in. I just knew he wasn't gonna start; I didn't know he wasn't gonna play.
"One thing about them -- they're always gonna do what they think is best for that given game. I know Bill. He wouldn't be the greatest coach of all time by not being right most of the time. [But] the whole defense didn't play well. It didn't work out.
"At the end of the day, he didn't play. I wasn't there. I can't tell you [why]."
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, who played for Belichick in New England for eight seasons and won three Super Bowl titles, meanwhile, said that he was satisfied with the decision Belichick gave him for not playing Butler in the Super Bowl.
"Malcolm is one of my favorite teammates I've ever played with, period," Ryan added. "He's always been a great teammate. There's nothing bad about the guy. He's here, and I wouldn't recommend anybody who was bad. And he's a hell of a player."
But unfortunately for Butler, those questions aren't going away anytime soon.
Not until he gets another chance to make a Super Bowl-deciding play, at the very least.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.