EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — A reporter wanted to know what Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith’s 40-yard dash time was at the NFL combine, where all top college prospects are measured and evaluated.
Seemed like a reasonable question.
This was, after all, the linebacker who returned an interception of Peyton Manning 69 yards for a touchdown in the first half, then recovered a fumble in the second half, helping the Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos 43-8 for the championship Sunday night.
Smith’s answer? “I didn’t get invited to the combine.”
And he wasn’t taken until the seventh round of the 2011 draft, the 242nd player chosen. Which is why, he said, he meshes perfectly with his unheralded teammates, more than a third of whom weren’t even drafted at all.
“You might have been overlooked,” Smith said, standing near his locker, where two footballs were tucked away for safekeeping. “You might feel like you can make plays and never got the opportunity.”
By way of explaining why a player like him was the perfect choice for an MVP from these Seahawks, Smith said: “I’m just fortunate to be a part of it, fortunate to get opportunities. I’m happy to be amongst a bunch of guys that play with attitudes and chips on their shoulders. I’m happy to represent that.”
Truth is, the Seahawks were the lucky ones.
Because even though Smith was not supposed to be a starter this season, a player with zero interceptions in his first two years in the league, he always was ready when called upon.
Pegged mainly as a special teams guy, Smith’s speed and ability to handle both outside linebacker slots earned notice.
When Bruce Irvin was suspended for four games in May for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, it was Smith who filled in as a starter.
When Bobby Wagner was sidelined, and K.J. Wright slid over to middle linebacker, Smith got another opportunity to start. And when Wright broke his right foot late in the season, well guess who Seattle called upon? Yep, Smith, of course.
Then suddenly, on Sunday, there he was at the Super Bowl, in the right place and right time, as usual.
It was Smith who wound up with the victory-sealing interception at the end of Seattle’s NFC championship game victory two weeks ago, grabbing the football after Richard Sherman deflected a pass in the end zone. And then, in the biggest game of all, Smith’s pick-6 off a fluttering ball — after teammate Cliff Avril made contact with Manning during the throw — made it 22-0 late in the first half Sunday, and Seattle was on its way.
“I was like, ‘Again!? No way.’ I didn’t believe it,” Smith said, wearing a gray sweatshirt over his uniform.
He grabbed a fumble in the third quarter, too, as the Seahawks made sure the Broncos never made things interesting.
In many ways, Smith is emblematic of Seattle’s success this season.
First and foremost, he plays defense, the unit that is the heart and soul of the team.
He’s a young guy on a young roster, in only his third year in the league after playing for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll in college at Southern California.
“When you look at the guys that we have on this team, they’re all a bunch of misfits that fit together,” special teamer Chris Maragos said. “To see what Malcolm has been able to do is just phenomenal. He’s a great worker, he’s humble, he plays hard, he studies hard.”
And it was rather appropriate that a member of Seattle’s league-leading “D” would be the MVP of the Super Bowl, considering the way the Seahawks shut down Manning and Denver’s record-breaking offense, forcing four turnovers and holding the Broncos scoreless until the last play of the third quarter.
Smith joined Ray Lewis of Baltimore in 2001 and Chuck Howley of Dallas in 1971 as the only linebackers to be picked as the top player in a Super Bowl. Only eight of 48 Super Bowls have ended with someone who plays defense getting the honor; the last example was Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Dexter Jackson in 2003.
And Smith, who is 24, is the fourth-youngest Super Bowl MVP.
His older brother, Steve, was a wide receiver on the New York Giants’ 2008 Super Bowl title team and was at Sunday’s game.
“I just told him to enjoy the moment, go out before pregame and take some pictures and really enjoy it,” Steve said, “because you never know when it could end and you could never be back again.”
Malcolm Smith made the most of his chance Sunday, the way he did all season, the way he did his whole career.
“He almost didn’t get drafted. For him to come in, start from the bottom and work his way up to Super Bowl MVP,” said Wright, his fellow linebacker, “it shows how much character he has, how resilient he is.”
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