Seattle Seahawks

Dave Boling: MVP Malcolm Smith returns to Super Bowl under the radar again

The best part of it all was winning the Super Bowl game.

But the truck came in second.

Malcolm Smith hadn’t bothered to study ahead of time the awards presented to the Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl.

After all, he’d been a sub most of last season. Surely he was valued for his versatility, and his pursuit speed and knack for being around the ball.

He’d put himself in position to pull in the Richard Sherman pass deflection that iced the win over the 49ers in the NFC title game and earn the Seahawks the trip to the Super Bowl.

And when the Seahawks put together the Super Bowl game plan for the Denver Broncos, the most prolific passing team in the history of the NFL, it was obvious that they’d have to play a lot of nickel defense.

It opened the way for Smith to see a lot of action.

Nobody could have predicted how much, though. He had nine tackles and a fumble recovery, but the capper was his interception of the Peyton Manning pass that he returned for a touchdown.

The 6-foot Smith showed his athleticism by outrunning the pursuing Broncos, but also by celebrating the feat by “dunking” the football over the goal post.

On the strength of his big plays, Smith was voted MVP of Super Bowl 48.

At some point thereafter, his mother informed him of a benefit attending that honor.

“My mom said, ‘You know, they give you a truck’,” Smith said. “I said, ‘Hmmm, mom, you can have it’.”

A big-play linebacker, and a big-gesture son, Smith bestowed the Chevy Silverado on his mother.

“Yes, that was a good experience,” he said Tuesday at Super Bowl 49 media day. “She always wanted a truck.”

It hasn’t been all slam dunks and free rides in the aftermath, though.

Smith needed offseason ankle surgery. “I don’t want to go into the details; it just took a little bit of time to get over it, like any time you have surgery. I missed a little bit of camp, which was kind of difficult.”

Smith started five games this season and made 37 tackles, but he’s been mostly a special-teams performer and a valued sub in specific situations.

But it might seem a lot lower profile than many might expect of the Super Bowl MVP.

If he’s had an issue with the role, nobody on the team has seen evidence of it.

“I’m really, really proud of him as a man to not let that bother him,” linebacker coach Ken Norton said of Smith’s attitude.

The paternal pride in Norton’s voice is both obvious and warranted.

“I’ve been with him so long, I recruited him as a junior in high school,” Norton said. “I coached him in college (at USC) and watched him develop as a young man. He’s a really, really special player. This kid is amazing.”

Because he suffers from achalasia, a disorder of the esophagus that makes it difficult to swallow food, Smith has had trouble consuming the 4,500 calories a day he aims for to sustain his weight.

It likely contributed to his being passed over until the seventh round of the 2011 draft. But Norton and head coach Pete Carroll were well aware of his speed and his playmaking ability.

In 2013, his knowledge of the Carroll defense was crucial as he filled in when suspension sidelined linebacker Bruce Irvin and injury forced K.J. Wright out of the lineup.

“Anytime somebody gets hurt, he steps in and does a fantastic job,” Norton said. “He’s smart enough to play every position. To me, I feel like I’ve got four starters.”

This season, it’s been Smith’s emotional resilience that has been important.

“He’s a guy who knows he can play at the highest level, but he’s been able to transfer his game to being an outstanding special-teams player,” Norton said. “Most guys would say, ‘I’m a linebacker, playing defense, I’m too good to play special teams.’ But he’s not only good enough to play linebacker, he’s a leading core player on special teams.”

When asked how this season has gone for him, Smith looked around an arena crowded with fans watching media day, and said the obvious: “The season’s been good; we’re in the Super Bowl and I’m blessed to be here.”

It was pointed out to him that he’s the “defending” MVP but was not asked to face the media from one of the 15 podiums reserved for players expected to be in most demand.

He shrugged.

“I didn’t have a podium last year,” he said.

And look how that turned out.

“Exactly.”

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