George Flaggs, Fr. was asked if he watched Super Bowl XLIX.
“Oh, did I?” Flaggs, the mayor of the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, told MemphiSport in a telephone interview Monday morning.
Flaggs, like the rest of the 23,856 residents of Vicksburg, had every reason to watch in amazement the latest Super Bowl, most notably the game’s grandest moment that transpired with just 20 seconds remaining in regulation on Sunday.
That’s when Vicksburg native, New England Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler, intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass at the goal line that was intended for wide receiver Ricardo Lockette to spoil a potential game-winning drive and deny the Seattle Seahawks a second consecutive world championship with a 28-24 victory at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
According to Flaggs, an Edwards, Mississippi native who has been mayor of Vicksburg since 2013, witnessing a hometown kid produce arguably one of the most memorable defensive plays in Super Bowl history brought a sense of pride and jubilation to his city, a town he said was thrust in the global spotlight for all the right reasons just after 9 p.m. CST Sunday.
“I know (Butler’s) family,” said Flaggs, who spoke with Butler’s stepfather on Monday. “And I’ve been hearing about (Butler) and how excited he was about having this opportunity.”
For Butler, a former Vicksburg High and University of West Alabama standout, the road to the NFL did not come easily.
Just last year sometime, the 24-year-old Butler was a minimum wage employee at a Vicksburg-area Popeye’s restaurant. Roughly a year removed at the time from having last played in a competitive game, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Butler never gave up his dream of playing in the NFL, despite going undrafted in last April’s draft.
Even while appearing on football’s largest stage, Butler certainly didn’t seem to have stage fright. Instead, he emerged as Super Bowl hero blanketed by confetti and was left unleashing tears of joy during an emotional postgame scene that was witnessed by millions around the world.
Butler’s game-saving interception against Seattle was the first of his career.
“To come out of Popeye’s as an employee and to fulfill his dream was marvelous,” Flaggs said of Butler. “This is a model story for young black men to never stop chasing their dreams. He already had the athletic ability, but he had some bumps and bruises along the way. His accomplishment is going to help black men all over the country realize their dreams.”
Flaggs, in fact, went as far as to liken Butler’s rise as an instant Super Bowl hero to Barack Obama becoming the first black United States president as well to the turbulent challenges he faced as a child in grade school.
Flaggs, 61, dropped out of school in the eighth grade before returning the next year and ultimately graduating from Vicksburg High years later.
Upon earning his high school diploma, Flaggs enrolled at nearby Hinds Community College, where he earned an Associate of Arts degree in Industrial Technology in 1981. Consequently, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in the same field from Jackson State in 1984.
A former member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, Flaggs, a Democrat, was sworn in as Vicksburg’s mayor in June 2013, having amassed 72 percent of the vote in the general election.
“I have never forgotten dropping out in the eighth grade because my mama had given me the worse whipping of my life,” Flaggs said.
Still, the events surrounding his dropping out of school, he said, don’t merely compare to what unfolded on national television Sunday, a dramatic turn of events his city will commemorate in the coming weeks.
Flaggs said plans are underway to conduct a Key to the City ceremony and parade to celebrate Butler being newly installed as Super Bowl champion.
Asked if at some point city officials will name a street in Butler’s honor, Flaggs said, “Well, we don’t know, but we certainly plan to give him a key to the city because he’s opened the hearts of our young people. I mean, he kept a whole team from (repeating as Super Bowl champs).”
What’s even more astounding, Flaggs acknowledged, is that Butler’s heroics on football’s largest stage have cast the small town of Vicksburg in a global spotlight, something he believes residents of his city will cherish for years to come.
“The whole world was put on notice that even in Vicksburg, where the Civil War was fought, you can become anything you want,” he said.
What a difference a Super Bowl-winning interception has made.
Andre Johnson covers the NFL for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson also covers the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.