EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Standing near his locker, the one where two footballs were tucked away for safekeeping, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith repeated the word "fortunate" over and over again.
The third player at his position in NFL history to earn Super Bowl MVP honors, he spoke about feeling "fortunate to be a part of it" and "fortunate to get opportunities."
Truth is, the Seahawks were the lucky ones.
Because even though Smith was only a seventh-round draft pick, a guy who was not supposed to be a starter this season, he always was ready when called upon. Never more so than Sunday night, when 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 that helped Seattle beat the Denver Broncos 43-8 for the championship.
"He's one of the guys that plays with a chip on his shoulder," fellow linebacker K.J. Wright said. "He almost didn't get drafted. For him to come in, start from the bottom and work his way up to Super Bowl MVP, it shows how much character he has, how resilient he is."
Sure is. 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 someone who plays defense getting the honor; the last example was Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Dexter Jackson in 2003.
And Smith, who is 24, is the fourth-youngest Super Bowl MVP.
His older brother, Steve, was a wide receiver on the New York Giants' 2008 Super Bowl title team and was at Sunday's game.
"I just told him to enjoy the moment, go out before pregame and take some pictures and really enjoy it," Steve said, "because you never know when it could end and you could never be back again."
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas were first-team All-Pro selections this season, and both finished among the top five vote-getters for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Safety Kam Chancellor was a second-team All-Pro choice.
That trio of defensive backs is part of a talented secondary known as the "Legion of Boom," and guys such as Smith often get overshadowed.