EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Malcolm Smith always was ready to step in when the Seattle Seahawks needed him.
Now he’s only the third linebacker in NFL history to earn Super Bowl MVP honors.
Smith returned an interception of regular-season MVP Peyton Manning 69 yards for a touchdown in the first half, recovered a fumble in the second half, and was part of a dominating defensive performance by Seattle during its 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday night.
“I woke up jumping, bouncing,” Smith said when presented with a truck amid the confetti-strewn field after the game. “It turned out great for us tonight.”
Sure did. And it was rather appropriate that a member of Seattle’s league-leading “D’’ would be the MVP of the Super Bowl, considering the way the Seahawks shut down Manning and Denver’s record-breaking offense, forcing four turnovers and holding the Broncos scoreless until the last play of the third quarter.
Smith joined Ray Lewis, of Baltimore in 2001, and Chuck Howley, of Dallas in 1971 as the only linebackers to be picked as the top player in a Super Bowl. Only eight of 48 Super Bowls have ended with a defensive player getting the honor; the last example was Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Dexter Jackson in 2003.
Smith’s pick-6 made it 22-0 late in the first half, and Seattle was on its way. He grabbed a fumble in the third quarter.
In many ways, Smith is emblematic of Seattle’s success this season.
First and foremost, he plays defense, the unit that is the heart and soul of the team.
He’s relatively young, in only his third year in the league.
He was not a high draft pick, taken in the seventh round out of Southern California, where he played for current Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
Pegged mainly as a special teams guy, his speed and ability to handle both outside linebacker slots earned notice.
When Bruce Irvin was suspended for four games in May for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, it was Smith who filled in as a starter.
When Bobby Wagner was sidelined, and K.J. Wright slid over to middle linebacker, Smith got another opportunity to start. And when Wright broke his right foot, well guess who Seattle called upon? Yep, Smith, of course.
Then suddenly, on Sunday, there he was at the Super Bowl, in the right place and right time, as usual.