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Humble Smith named Super Bowl MVP

The SportsXchange

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He is the quiet man, the counter to cornerback Richard Sherman. He is the linebacker who speaks with actions more than words.

Malcolm Smith possesses a humility that belies his skill. The MVP trophy he earned Sunday while helping the Seattle Seahawks to an overwhelming win in Super Bowl XLVIII emphasizes it.

Smith turned a Peyton Manning pass into a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown, and recovered a fumble by wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, but he seemed more satisfied with Seattle's 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos than with his own just rewards.

"It's not me, it's the whole defense," Smith said of a unit that ranked No. 1 in the NFL this season. "I just represent them. We just have a great group of guys. I was just here and played my role."

What a role, being in the right place at the right time, exactly as Smith was two weeks earlier in the NFC Championship Game win over the San Francisco 49ers. Sherman made a spectacular tip of a pass by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick intended for wide receiver Michael Crabtree, but it was Smith who grabbed the pass and made the interception that ended the 49ers' chances.

However, after Sherman's postgame rant against Crabtree, not many people realized who came down with the ball.

That mattered less to Smith than being named the MVP this time. He was a seventh-round pick, No. 242 overall in 2011, out of USC, not even invited to the pre-draft combine, so there's not a scintilla of arrogance in the young man.

Six years earlier, in Super Bowl XLII, Smith's older brother, Steve, who also played at USC -- and also for Pete Carroll, who then coached the Trojans and now coaches Seattle -- caught five passes to help the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots 17-14. On Sunday, it was Malcolm Smith's turn.

The Seahawks, leading almost from the final notes of Renee Fleming's beautiful rendition of the national anthem, were in front 15-0 when Manning and the Broncos began a drive from their own 16-yard line with 11:54 to play in the second quarter. After 16 plays, the Broncos were down to the Seattle 35.

"Manning was working back," Smith said. "Somebody (Cliff Avril) got a hand on the quarterback, and the ball came out high as he threw."

And then Smith got two hands on the ball, taking it back for the longest interception return in a Super Bowl since Tracy Porter went 74 yards with a Manning pick in XLIV.

The score was 22-0. For all intents, it could have been 100-0. It was over. And really the only question was who would be named MVP.

"I was just happy to be on the field," Smith said.

"When asked if it was a thrill to win the award, he responded, "It's a thrill for me to be part of a Super Bowl champion. We feel we play with a level of intensity other teams can't match. Coming into the game, (the Broncos) hadn't had to deal with anyone like us."

Smith has achalasia, a rare disorder of the esophagus that affects its ability to move food toward the stomach. It started to affect him around the time of the 2009 Rose Bowl, where he began losing a few pounds of body weight each week because food would get stuck in his esophagus.

The condition was a problem as Smith tried to keep his weight up to 230. Smith underwent a surgical procedure called a Heller myotomy that helped somewhat, but he still has dietary restrictions that force him to eat very slowly.

The ailment surely caused pro teams to shy away from him before the draft, but he found a home in Seattle under Carroll, who persistently recruited Smith out of Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Calif., to USC.

Said Smith, already wearing a "Super Bowl Champion" sweatshirt as he sat behind a postgame microphone, "Peyton Manning is a great quarterback. He gets the ball out fast, but he's never seen speed like we have on defense."

A defense that includes Malcolm Smith, of course.

"I'm fortunate to be around great coaches," Smith said. "When Coach Carroll came out to recruit me, he said, 'Why can't we be the ones to make history?'"

He made it.

"I'm a competitor," Smith said, "for life."

Now he's something more: MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII.
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