NEW YORK — The Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLVIII easily could have been the entire Seattle Seahawks defense, but it wasn’t possible for all 21 players who played at least one snap on D to win.
Plus, they either would have had to create one heck of a share plan for the Chevy truck that came with the MVP award, or the automaker might have faced another financial crisis giving away that many of its higher-priced trucks.
So the choice among the 16 voting media members was linebacker Malcolm Smith, a player who entered the week largely anonymous but left as the winning face of the Seahawks’ stellar defense.
Despite his 69-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first half, fumble recovery in the third quarter, and seven tackles, even Smith was surprised he was singled out.
“I didn’t think it would get to the point of being MVP,” he said Monday morning during an early news conference with coach Pete Carroll and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. “Even during the game, guys were like, ‘You might be MVP,’ and I was like, ‘No way. No way. Not me.’ But to be here, it’s just pretty cool.”
While Carroll — who acknowledged that he’d partied all night at the team hotel, with team owner Paul Allen and his band and then Seattle natives and Grammy winners Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performing — remarkably looked fresh as a daisy in a tan suit, Smith (unnecessarily) apologized for his more casual outfit: white T-shirt with camouflage patterned sleeves and cargo-style khaki pants.
Not that a suit was a requirement for the morning, but Smith was dressed for his next stop after the Sheraton Times Square: Walt Disney World. As is customary for the Super Bowl MVP, he was whisked off to Orlando, and by mid-afternoon, there were photos on Twitter of him waving to the Magic Kingdom crowd from the back of convertible, sitting next to Mickey Mouse.
The 24-year old Smith, like many of his Seattle teammates, came into the NFL as an underdog: not invited to the Combine, he was the 242d pick in the 2011 draft out of Southern California, taken by his former college coach, Carroll.
“I guess there’s unlimited possibilities,” Smith said about finding success as a professional even when being overlooked coming out of college. “That’s not the end of your story. Just keep playing, stick to what you’ve got to do and what you want to do and how you see things going for yourself.”
Carroll had not only coached Smith with the Trojans before leaving for the Seahawks in 2010, he had known the young man for years: Smith is the younger brother of Steve Smith, the receiver who played for the Giants, Eagles, and Rams in his career.
As a rookie, Steve Smith had five catches for 50 yards against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, including a 17-yard reception on third down that led to the Giants’ first touchdown. Malcolm was in the stands that night.
“We’ve been coaching [Malcolm] since he was 11 years old, I think,” Carroll said, smiling. “We recruited his brother, and he was kind of always hanging around and coming into the program. It just seems like we’ve had him in the system for so long.
“We’ve appreciated Malcolm’s athleticism, his smarts, and his toughness for a long time. His college career kind of got knocked around because he was playing behind one of the most amazing linebacker crews of all time. We knew that he was an extraordinary athlete and we fortunately had the shot to take him [in the draft].”
Smith had interceptions in each of the Seahawks’ last two regular-season games, and then two more in the postseason: he caught Richard Sherman’s end-zone deflection of the pass intended for Michael Crabtree to seal the NFC Championship game, and then of course Sunday night’s pick-6.
“He’s had a huge impact,” Carroll said. “It’s because he’s such a well-rounded athlete, and he knows our system so well. He’s a great asset to us. He plays all kinds of positions, and he’s a fantastic special teams player as well.”
As he recounted what was going through his mind as he was sprinting for the end zone Sunday night, ball securely in his hands, Smith could have been talking about Seattle’s entire night as well as his own journey.
“You want to enjoy your teammates,” he said. “You know you didn’t do it by yourself. You know you have guys to thank and stuff like that.
“Just happy, man. A great feeling.”