GLENDALE, Ariz. — If the entire night passed without a single football coming Chris Matthews’s way, he would have been fine.
It wouldn’t have been any different than any other NFL game he had played in, and he was fine with that.
He hadn’t been the player for whom coaches drew up plays.
He hadn’t been that player since college when he wrecked the Southeastern Conference for 61 catches, 925 yards, and 9 touchdowns as a senior at Kentucky.
“I really didn’t have anything,” Matthews said. “I was just out there playing and practicing and going through with the team and focusing. I didn’t have any inclinations of any type of plays set up for me.”
He wasn’t the kind of player that kept defensive coordinators up at night.
The last time coaches were scheming for him he was in Winnipeg, making 81 catches for 1,192 yards and 7 touchdowns as a rookie for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League.
The only reason his name might have popped up on anyone’s radar leading up to Super Bowl XLIX was when he received an $11,000 fine as collateral damage in the battle between the NFL and Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.
He had spent years doing the kind of work that goes unnoticed in order to create just the tiniest window of opportunity in the NFL.
He finally carved out a spot on the Seahawks roster by grinding out a training camp invite, shuffling on and off the practice squad and going all-out in whatever role he was given, no matter how minimal.
It’s how he ended up leaving his fingerprints on Seattle’s miraculous win in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers — lining up on special teams and coming up with a crucial onside-kick recovery that set the Seahawks up for a go-ahead score — and that’s the way he went about prepping for Super Bowl XLIX.
“I wasn’t even expecting to get a ball,” Matthews said. “I was expecting to go down there and do special teams and make plays as a special teams player.
“I’m not a selfish player. I’m definitely a team player and I don’t care if I didn’t even get one pass, one yard, one tackle, it wouldn’t have mattered to me as long as we had won the game and I had made an influence in any way. I would’ve been happy with a win with no stats.”
From the moment Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson rolled out and unleashed a deep ball Matthews’s way 45 yards downfield late in the second quarter, everything changed.
Matthews had Patriots defensive back Kyle Arrington practically frisking him down the sideline. But Arrington never had a chance. At 6 feet 5 inches, Matthews had an aerial view of Arrington’s helmet.
While Arrington could only stare at the football as it zoomed their way, Matthews plucked it out of the air for his first NFL reception.
From that point on, Matthews was no longer a worker bee. He was a threat.
The Super Bowl has a way of wiping out anonymity.
He immediately became a trending topic — in Canada.
“Canada treated me right,” Matthews said. “I have nothing but love for Canada and all the things that were down there that helped me out.”
It only mushroomed just before halftime when Wilson floated a pass in his direction in the front of the end zone.
He snagged it in front of Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan, who was helpless to do anything. His first NFL touchdown tied the score at 14 just before the half and swung the momentum Seattle’s way.
Matthews went from going without an NFL catch to grabbing two passes for 55 yards and a touchdown in a single half.
By the third quarter, Matthews had four catches for 109 yards and was the front-runner for MVP.
“I feel like I did as much as I can to help myself be ready and put myself in a position to excel,” Matthews said. “They definitely gave me the opportunity today. Russ threw a bunch of great balls, especially towards me and I just wanted to execute and capitalize.”
The numbers were too much for Patriots coach Bill Belichick to ignore.
He had to account for a player he may not have been scheming for by throwing one of his best corners at him — Brandon Browner.
The sight was almost flattering to Matthews.
“Brandon Browner’s definitely a great player,” Matthews said. “It was a challenge going up against him, but it was great, especially in the Super Bowl. So I take it as a compliment.
“My personal thought was Brandon Browner was going to stick to the tight end, because they liked the matchup, so I definitely didn’t think that he was going to be on me. Then the second half came around and that’s what happened.”
The Seahawks receiving corps wears the word “pedestrian” like both a chip and a badge of honor. So seeing Matthews come up big on the game’s biggest stage was like watching him go through their initiation process.
“I mean, I had the most confidence in him,” said Seahawks wideout Jermaine Kearse. “I knew he was able to make those types of plays. We spent time together, just trying to figure things out, trying to get him going and he was able to come up huge for us. I was really proud of his performance.
“If you look at our [locker] room, period, we’ve got a lot of guys with those types of stories that just put in the work just to get onto the team and when they get the opportunity, they maximize it.”
Just two months ago, Matthews was working two jobs — one for his father, Darell, who was a part owner of Secure Ready in Compton, Calif., and one at Foot Locker.
His entire football earnings this season amounted to $103,000 — and $11,000 was taken away when he was fined for an obscene gesture in the NFC Championship game.
For Matthews, none of it mattered knowing he had the opportunity to win a championship.
Falling short left a bitter taste.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.