The Seattle Seahawks open training camp Friday, which reminds me of Chris Matthews.
Remember that guy? The breakout star of Super Bowl 49? If the Seahawks coaching staff doesn’t succumb to a last-second panic attack inside the New England 1-yard line, Matthews is on the short list of most remarkable stories in football history.
He appears on TV, initially as a guest on the late night talk shows and then as a celebrity contestant on game shows. He’s seen on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He accompanies the team to the White House, where President Obama identifies him by name and makes the inevitable reference to the other Chris Matthews.
A former Foot Locker employee, he signs a national endorsement deal with the company and becomes a local spokesman for, well, everything except that plumbing firm Marshawn Lynch represents and the trucks, trucks and more trucks dealership associated with Jay Buhner’s ubiquitous bray.
All this was in front of Chris Matthews, and then it wasn’t. The moment Russell Wilson threw the pass that deprived the Seahawks of a comeback victory against the Patriots on Feb. 1, Matthews, a Super Bowl MVP candidate, returned to the anonymity from whence he came.
It’s been almost five months since Super Bowl 49, and I can’t recall the last time Chris Matthews’ name was brought up in a discussion with friends about the Seahawks. For that matter, I can’t recall the first time his name was brought up in a discussion.
Which is crazy, because Matthews’ ability to jump-start his team’s dormant offense in February turned a potential Patriots’ blowout into the most thrilling of Super Bowls. And to think: He was a 25-year old rookie who never had caught a pass in an NFL game.
The outrage over the ridiculous strategy at the end masked the struggle the Seahawks had at the start. Wilson didn’t throw a completion until 5 minutes, 36 seconds remained in the second quarter. A minute later, he hooked up with Matthews on the 44-yard reception that gave the Hawks a semblance of momentum.
Matthews’ 11-yard touchdown catch, a few seconds before halftime, tied the score at 14, and his 45-yard grab, early in the third quarter, was a kind of draw-a-line-in-the-sand statement that the defending champs would not go gentle into the good night.
An MVP performance? Four catches worth 109 yards and a touchdown would’ve ranked on the low end of the six receivers who’ve won Super Bowl MVP. Although Matthews’ numbers couldn’t compare to Jerry Rice’s 11 catches for 215 yards and a touchdown for the 49ers Super Bowl 23, they trumped the four catches for 79 yards Fred Biletnikoff gave the Raiders in Super Bowl 11.
Evaluating an MVP on sheer stats can be done by a third grader. Applying stats to momentum shifts requires some deeper thinking. The Seahawks’ offense was going nowhere in the Super Bowl, then Wilson found Matthews and, bingo, it was going downfield in a hurry.
Factor in the Ripley’s Believe Or Not subplot — his Arena Football League background with the Iowa Barnstormers,
The Canadian Football League stint with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, signed by the Seahawks, late in the season, as a special teams reinforcement — and the bid for Super Bowl MVP becomes the stuff of a Disney movie script.
Absent such a script, the page is turned anyway, and now we wonder: What was that about?
Matthews is not a burner. But he’s 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds and poses obvious matchup problems for cornerbacks shorter than 6-5 and lighter than 220, a demographic encompassing every cornerback who has stepped onto a field.
The offseason acquisition of 6-7 tight end Jimmy Graham, a quintessential possession receiver, gives the Hawks another tall target. Between Graham and Matthews, Wilson might throw 1,000 yards of lob passes in 2015.
It’s a possibility full of fun and intrigue. Graham is a proven veteran with traction. Matthews remains an experiment, a second-year receiver awaiting his first catch in a regular-season game.
And yet in the biggest game of all, on the brightest stage there is, Matthews revealed his yearning to make a difference.
He wears jersey No. 13.
Were it not for the ill-fated pass that never should have been thrown, No. 13 would be the most popular jersey sold at Seahawks team stores.
But hey, it’s time to move on, and to see Super Bowl 49 from the perspective of one player denied the many frills an MVP trophy brings.
It wasn’t the end of a story. It was the beginning.