JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — The names are hardly as familiar as Peyton Manning and Richard Sherman. Yet, for all the megastars and All-Pros in this Super Bowl, there are guys like Jermaine Kearse and Paris Lenon.
Like Michael Robinson and Terrance Knighton. Malcolm Smith and Manny Ramirez.
Players who have gone from pretty much nowhere on the NFL landscape to the doorstep of a championship.
Perhaps no one is more grateful for the opportunity to grab a ring than these men. Some are veterans who fit the term journeymen. Some are youngsters who went in late rounds of the draft — or were ignored altogether.
All recognize they will play some sort of role in Sunday's championship game. Some might even sneak into a starring part, the way running back Tim Smith did in 1987 or cornerback Larry Brown did in 1996.
"You never know who it might be," said Knighton, the massive defensive tackle coming off a sensational AFC championship game performance.
Knighton could be the poster child for players who graduate from the depths of the NFL — "I did my four years in Jacksonville," he said — to the top of the pro football ladder. He's been practically unblockable in the last few weeks, rising from obscurity to recognizability as a leader of an improving defense.
"Well I think that's naturally going to happen when you're in the middle of the defense and you're the anchor of the defense," the 335-pound Knighton said. "I feel like I'm a natural leader; I think wherever I am, people just gravitate towards me, and with that it requires a responsibility to help other guys and bring them along."
Coach John Fox praises the work ethic of Knighton, who was buried deep on the depth chart in training camp after being signed as a free agent away from the Jaguars.
"I'll always put it on players," Fox said of Knighton's emergence from a who's-he to a watch-out-for-him performer. "As a coach, we spend a lot of time trying to define players. Basically, our approach is, 'Don't let us define you. You are going to be held accountable. It is going to be based on your performance, where you are on the depth chart, how much you are going to play. All of those things, you earn or don't earn.'
"Really, everything Terrance has done, he did (himself)."