Patrick Mahomes wasn't the only Kansas City Chiefs player who had to overcome a high ankle sprain to become a late-game Super Bowl hero. Their kicker did, too.
"That's what you dream of as a kicker, getting to the Super Bowl and having a game-winning kick," Butker said. "It's an amazing feeling, and I'm just so happy now to be with the Chiefs organization."
Of course, Butker's high ankle sprain didn't happen in the AFC Championship Game, like Mahomes' did. Butker's injury came in the Week 1 win over the Cardinals, sidelining him for the next four games.
Butker made a 62-yarder in his first game back, against the Buffalo Bills. But it was a frustrating regular season for him, missing four of his 37 extra-point tries and seven of 24 field-goal attempts after returning to action.
The injury was to his non-kicking (left) leg, but that didn't make it any less important. For a right-footed kicker, that's the plant leg -- the weight-bearing leg -- and can throw off a kicker's balance, timing and power.
"The only reason he had problems was the high ankle sprain, and that's rough on a kicker, especially on that front leg," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said. "And so it was a matter of just getting through that, and the tweaks that that thing presents to you really for the rest of the season from when he was hurt."
In the two previous postseason games, Butker made a pair of 50-yarders against the Jaguars and was a perfect 3-for-3 against the Bengals. He had a chance to give the Chiefs a 10-7 lead in the first quarter of the Super Bowl but pushed his 42-yard try left, doinking it off the upright. The Eagles would score four plays later to take a 14-7 lead.
Butker understood the enormity of the miss as the Chiefs fell behind by 10 points at halftime, with Mahomes dealing with his more recent ankle injury being aggravated late in the second quarter. Even as the Chiefs started pulling back into the game, the missed opportunity still loomed large -- and Butker was alone with his thoughts on the sideline for more than three quarters after his miss.
"You've got to focus on the next kick, and that's what I was doing," Butker said. "You do look at the scoreboard and think, 'Wow, if I did make that field goal, we'd have three more points.'
"But is that going to help me make the next kick? Probably not. You've got to get that out of your mind and just focus on the process and the next opportunity you get."
The Chiefs also had to factor it into their strategy: Could they trust their longtime kicker? Reid ended up putting his faith in Butker on the Chiefs' final drive of the game. After all, Butker had made more than 90% of his regular-season field-goal tries prior to this year, and his earlier miss was just his fourth ever in the postseason on 25 attempts.
Mahomes led the Chiefs' offense down the field in a 35-35 game to put the Chiefs in a position to win. After James Bradberry's defensive holding and Jerick McKinnon taking a knee at the Eagles' 1-yard line, the Chiefs were able to bleed the clock nearly out. It was clear that Reid's faith in his kicker was strong at that moment.
Butker rewarded Reid, striping the no-doubt kick down the middle and helping send the Chiefs home a Super Bowl winner for the second time in four years.
"It's crazy to think that that's now happened," Butker said. "What is it -- a walk-off game-winner? I don't know what it is (called) when there's time left on the clock. It's an amazing feeling.
"I'm just so happy now to be with the Chiefs organization with great leaders and Patrick, [who] did a great job leading us to this victory."
And like Mahomes, Butker can now rest that ankle and spend the offseason knowing that the journey to this point was worth the pain and struggle it took to arrive at this moment.