Malcolm Smith didn’t mind the notoriety that eluded him after his end-zone interception in the NFC championship assured the Seattle Seahawks of a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Smith figured – in the words of the late Frank Sinatra, the New Jersey native associated with a more famous song that blared over the sound system of MetLife Stadium on Sunday night — the best had yet to come.
“Hopefully,” Smith told me last week during a media session that found him all but ignored, “we’ll get another that trumps it in this game. I’ll focus on that. I’d rather have a Super Bowl ring than the greatest interception in the NFC championship game.”
Along with his teammates, Smith earned a ring Sunday, thanks to the Seahawks’ 43-8 decimation of the Denver Broncos. But the former seventh-round draft choice from USC also was given the keys to a 2014 Chevrolet Silverado as Supe 48’s Most Valuable Player.
Two weeks after his interception in the NFC championship was overshadowed by events that immediately preceded and followed it, Smith picked off a Peyton Manning pass in Seahawks territory and never looked back during a 69-yard touchdown return. Smith also participated in nine tackles, and broke up a pass, and recovered a fumble.
“Man, it’s incredible,” he said of the two turnovers he got. “It’s the way our defense is set up. We just run to the ball. I just the one today, but it happens all the time like this.”
Reflective of the Seattle’s domination of the No. 1 single-season offense in NFL history is the fact strong MVP cases could have been for several players on both sides of the ball.
Kam Chancellor’s interception a first-quarter pass – it floated into his hands – was among the difference-making plays the strong safety contributed on a night that included five unassisted tackles and two passes defensed.
Right end Cliff Avril, who at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds should’ve been overmatched by the Broncos’ 6-7, 320-pound Orlando Franklin, put a bull-rush on the left tackle and arrived in time to impede Manning’s delivery on the throw Smith intercepted.
Seattle Seahawks’ wide receiver Percy Harvin, recovering from hip surgery, touched the ball only twice during the regular season. And after he spent most of the first playoff game on the sideline with a concussion, it was reasonable to presume anything he contributed during the ultimate playoff game would be a bonus.
But on a night the Denver Broncos’ record-setting offense appeared overmatched and, ultimately, overwhelmed by a Seahawks defense that turned Super Bowl XLVIII into the equivalent of a first-round knockout, Harvin also made a compelling case as an MVP.
Harvin’s 30-yard gain on an end around came on the Seahawks’ second snap of a game, and put the Hawks in position to kick the field goal that gave them the distinction of earning the first 5-0 lead in the Super Bowl history.
Harvin added 15 yards on a similar play at the end of the first half, and then he put the game out reach by keeping the Broncos out of reach after catching the second-half kickoff.
A Denver comeback wouldn’t have been unfathomable. (Baltimore owned a 28-6 third-quarter advantage last year in the Super Bowl, and ended up having to hold on in a thriller.) But Harvin’s 87-yard return served as emphatic proof that only one team – the team in the white jerseys – would be in position to return home with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“Those guys had so much belief in me,” said Harvin. “Even when wasn’t practicing, those guys were telling me, ‘you’re going to score on this, and I’m like: ‘I’m not even on the field practicing yet.”
Quarterbacks are typically the most obvious MVP selections, and Russell Wilson’s performance – 18-of-25 for 206 yards and two touchdowns – was worthy of consideration, if for no other reason than his spectacular passing rating of 123.1. (For perspective on that number, Manning set a Super Bowl record of 34 completions – and finished with a 73.5 rating.)
But by the time the passing game with Wilson achieved a second-half rhythm that kept Broncos on their heels, the blowout was on the brink of historic.
In 47 previous Super Bowls, no team had been shut out, and the yet the Seahawks had a 36-0 lead until the final play of the third quarter, when Manning finally managed a touchdown pass that did little to alleviate the humiliation.
“Watching the film coming into the week,” said Hawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, “we’d seen that they hadn’t played a defense like ours. They hadn’t played a defense that flies around like we do, that hits like we do, and we just do it every single play.
“We’re a part of history. A hundred years from now, ‘y’all are going to remember this team.”
Wagner’s prediction might be a bit optimistic, as I’m not sure many of us will be in shape, 100 years from now, to talk about the night the Hawks conquered four decades of franchise frustration.
But I understand the spirit of his words: the Seahawks put on show so balanced, so inspired and so comprehensively impressive that it was difficult to determine who deserved an individual award.
Malcom Smith was given the title to the vehicle, but the title of Super Bowl MVP could have gone to any of several teammates.
It’s something the president might keep in mind when the world champion 2013 Seattle Seahawks visit the White House.