Get to know the MVP
On Sunday morning, after getting his hair cut, Malcolm Smith visited the Seahawks family hotel. He wanted to say hi to his mother, Audrey. There was no reason for the impromptu drop-by. “He just gave her a big hug,” Malcolm’s girlfriend, Aneesa, said. “She was so surprised to see him.”
“I was mainly happy to see he was healthy,” Audrey Smith said. “No matter what happened in the game, I knew my son was in a good place.”
Smith’s ascent from 2011 seventh-round draft pick to Super Bowl MVP is remarkable. But what’s really remarkable was his just being there. Five years ago, Smith was so ill he could barely digest a meal without having to vomit. He lost nearly two pounds a week.
Doctors diagnosed Malcolm, then a junior at Southern California, with an extremely rare esophagus disorder called achalasia, which affects just one in 100,000 people. He underwent surgery in 2010, and afterward weighed just 200 pounds (he’s listed at 226 now). It’s one of the reasons he wasn’t invited to the combine, and why he fell to the 242nd pick in 2011.
“I didn’t ever think he was going to give up,” said Malcom’s brother Steve, the former Giants receiver who won a ring of his own the first time New York beat the Patriots in 2008. “But after all that, to see him at his low and see him actually want to do this, actually want to persevere?”
On Sunday Malcolm returned a second-quarter interception 69 yards for a touchdown and became the first defensive player to win the Super Bowl MVP in 11 years. “MVP? Of the Super Bowl?” Malcolm said. “I was sure they were kidding me. I said, ‘I want someone official to tell me I am the Super Bowl MVP.”
Just read the papers this morning. You’re all over them.
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On this night, not the Mann.
A bitter disappointment for Peyton Manning, obviously. And when Manning looks back on the tape from this game, he’ll be sick. The unforced errors, starting with the first snap of the game. The mistakes he made in identifying the open receivers. The forced throws. He didn’t have much help—he was pressured from start to end—but he tried too hard to make plays that very often weren’t there.
We saw it late in the first half, Denver down 22-0 and needing something, anything to show flickering life. On first down from the Seattle 27, Manning had a choice: forcing the ball to Julius Thomas—bracketed by safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, or throwing to an open Wes Welker at the 15. That would have been a first down. But he tried Thomas, and it wasn’t close. Incomplete. Meanwhile, Welker, who rarely shows emotion after a pass, threw his arms in the air. Four plays later, on 4th-and-2, Manning bypassed a more open Julius Thomas, in first-down territory, to try to hit Demaryius Thomas. Ball was tipped. Incomplete. There are many times you watched a big moment Sunday night, and every time, seemingly, was to Seattle’s advantage. Manning just looked uneasy.
I didn’t see Manning after the game, but Mark Mravic of The MMQB did. He reported:
It was a grim and tight-lipped Manning who stepped to the podium for his obligatory postgame session with the media in blue pin-striped suit and maroon tie with silver stripes. In front of several dozen reporters, boom mics and cameras, he sat looking as perplexed by what had happened on the field as the 80,000 in MetLife Stadium and the 100 million watching at home. Manning’s answers were perfunctory and unenlightening. In truth, he had no answers. And he did not crack a smile. This was a bitter veteran professional doing his league-mandated duty, looking as if he’d rather be anywhere else. You could tell this hurt. “To finish this way is very disappointing,” Manning said. “It’s not an easy pill to swallow, but eventually we have to. I don’t know if you ever really get over it.” Only once in the seven-minute session did Manning betray any emotion beyond grim resignation. He was asked whether this was an embarrassing loss, and you could see the blood begin to boil. “It’s not embarrassing at all,” he said. “I would never use that word. There’s a lot of professional football players in that locker room, who put a lot of hard work and effort into being here and into playing in that game. The word ‘embarrassing’ is an insulting word to me, in truth.”
With that, Manning left the podium and was escorted behind a curtain for a television interview. Some minutes later he was walking away from the Broncos locker room, escorted by a lone New Jersey State Trooper. Passing a small clutch of fans in Broncos gear, he stopped to sign a T-shirt and a hat. Then he continued, hands in pocket, past the celebrating Seahawks locker. Here he was stopped again, this time by Seahawks president Peter McLoughlin. Manning offered McLoughlin his congratulations as McLoughlin offered condolences. A few more yards, one more signature for one last fan, and Manning was gone again through the curtain and out into the night.