Max Bultman: A cruel ending for Jake Butt

Saturday, December 31, 2016 - 2:19am

Senior tight end Jake Butt was injured in the second quarter of the Orange Bowl on Friday night.

Senior tight end Jake Butt was injured in the second quarter of the Orange Bowl on Friday night. Buy this photo
Amanda Allen/Daily

 

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Wednesday night, Jake Butt stood in front of a Brazilian steakhouse in Miami Beach and defended the decisions of two of his peers to sit out their bowl games for fear of injury. He was visibly ill and had given bland answers to most of the questions, but when the topic came up, he defended Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette with gusto.

“Here we are, we’re living off rent checks, a guy sees an opportunity for a lifelong dream in the NFL, they make a business decision. I can’t judge anybody,” he said. “I don’t know what all went into that decision, and I’m not going to pretend to know. So I’m not going to judge or act on that. I support those guys, and best of luck to them.”

How cruel is fate? Some 50-odd hours later, Butt was writhing in pain on the 6-yard line at Hard Rock Stadium. The very risk McCaffrey and Fournette sought to avoid by sitting out their respective bowl games had struck Butt. Fighting for extra yards after he had already picked up a first down, Butt absorbed a hit on his right knee. His plant leg bent sideways.

Later, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh revealed it was either an MCL or an ACL injury, though he did not know the severity. The injury could prove devastating.

“Irony, I guess,” said fifth-year senior Ryan Glasgow. “Some twisted joke.”

Butt eventually walked off the field, giving the crowd a thumbs-up on his way to the tunnel, but it was clear he wasn’t right. He did not return.

“Cruel fate is probably a good way to put it,” Glasgow said. “I mean, we are to the gods as flies are to wanton boys.”

There’s plenty of room to debate whether players ought to sit out bowl games, whether they owe it more to the school to play or to themselves to be safe, but this much is hardly up for debate: What happened to Jake Butt on Friday is tragic. It didn’t take Glasgow’s “King Lear” reference to see that.

Here was a player unwilling to judge his peers for their own decisions but still himself committed to playing. He somehow did right by both sides of the argument, and in the end, he paid the price.

We won’t know just how steep a price until later on, perhaps after an MRI, but Glasgow said, from what he’s heard, it “doesn’t look too good.” ESPN’s Darren Rovell tweeted Friday that Butt took out a $4 million disability insurance policy and a $2 million loss of value policy that he can start collecting if he falls beyond the second round of the NFL Draft.

That, at least, is a small consolation. But that was far from the minds of Butt’s teammates in the locker room.

“It’s horrible,” said senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis. “Especially when you have the desire to go out and play with your teammates, and when you have future endeavors that you’re thinking about that a lot of people wouldn’t understand if you didn’t play. It’s a horrible misfortune of events that it happened to Jake, and I’m just praying that he has a big bounce back, and I know the guy has great things in store for him.”

Added fifth-year senior defensive end Chris Wormley: “When you’ve put in as much work as he has, came back from an ACL injury a couple years ago, team captain, put his heart and soul into this team each and every day, sometimes you ask ‘Why?’ Sometimes you don’t understand why things happen to a good person like Jake.”

It seems beside the point that Michigan sorely missed its captain and Mackey Award winner in its 33-32 loss in the Orange Bowl, but it’s a safe bet that wasn’t far from Butt’s mind as the calendar turned to Saturday. “Never once crossed my mind to sit this game out,” he tweeted afterward.

Maybe, you could argue, it should have. Or maybe fate is fate, and, as Butt also tweeted, “God has a plan.” Maybe the guy just got sinisterly unlucky.

Wherever he was in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Butt was still taking the high road. But perhaps some part of him was more like his teammates — shocked, devastated and left to wonder, “Why?”