Just prior to the start of the Super Bowl, cameras were focused on a despondent Malcolm Butler. We soon learned that the New England Patriots’ starting cornerback was benched for the game – for disciplinary reasons. There were rumors of a curfew violation, but no specifics. Coach Bill Belichick in fact kept him off the field all game long.
Some Pats’ fans are of course irate, and are blaming the coach for the loss. The very first score by the Eagles was a 34-yard reception by Alshon Jeffery, who was being guarded by Eric Rowe, Butler’s replacement. In truth though, Rowe had very good coverage, but Jeffery made an even better catch.
Playing Eric Rowe in place of Butler was certainly a downgrade. Butler made the Pro Bowl in 2015, was a second-team All-Pro in 2016, and was the hero of the Super Bowl just three years ago, when his last-minute interception at the goal line deprived the Seahawks of the win.
It took only a day until more information emerged. Butler’s ex-teammate, Brandon Browner, took to social media to rip the head coach for benching Butler. Via Instagram, Browner had this to say: “For weed? For curfew? Man, do y’all history. Patriots (are) a team that give guys second chances… Like every job, there’s always favorites, and lil’ bro wasn’t a favorite.”
It seems that overnight before the big game, Butler was smoking weed and had a woman in his room. I believe it’s standard practice around the league to forbid such behavior, and that teams often resort to bed checks to enforce the rules.
When asked after the game why he had been benched, Butler said “I don’t know, but I could have changed that game.”
By Monday Belichick acknowledged there were multiple issues involved. A beat reporter for the Pats also indicated that Butler was demoted earlier in the playoffs, but that happened during the Pats’ bye week, so Butler lost no playing time. Maybe he already had been given that second chance.
Remember Max McGee?
In the first Super Bowl game, coach Vince Lombardi could have easily been involved in a similar controversy. Receiver Max McGee, a notorious party boy, was nearing the end of his career, and was not expecting to play in the big game. Due to an injury, however, he was thrust into action, played most of the game, scored the first Super Bowl touchdown ever, and wound up with seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
McGee, not expecting to see action, was out on the town the night before the Super Bowl. He even confided before the game to starting receiver Boyd Dowler, “I hope you don’t get hurt. I’m not in very good shape,” referring to a raging hangover. Had Lombardi found out about the curfew violation…
You Make the Call
Was Belichick’s discipline too harsh? In punishing Butler, did he unfairly penalize the entire organization?
Was it Butler who let all his teammates down by putting his own selfish interests ahead of the team’s interests?
Could the coach have made his point without jeopardizing the big game’s outcome? How about suspending him for the first two games of the 2018 season?
Was Butler out of his mind? Just a day later, he’d have five months of vacation to do all the carousing he wanted. And wasn’t there ample opportunity to have fun in the two weeks leading up to the event, without having to do it less than 24 hours before the game?
Should Belichick have cut some slack on enforcement of the rules postseason versus the regular season?
Had Belichick not taken a hard line, would he have lost a portion of his authority and leadership over the team? Would the team have respected him less if he had compromised his principles?
Should a star player be treated differently than a lesser player?