By Julian Linden
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - No one was more surprised than Malcolm Smith when the Seattle Seahawks linebacker was awarded the Most Valuable Player in Sunday's Super Bowl.
The 24-year-old played an outstanding game, scoring a crucial touchdown, recovering a fumble and making five solo tackles as the Seahawks demolished the Denver Broncos 43-8, but it never crossed his mind that he might win one of the game's biggest individual awards.
"I always imagined myself making great plays but I never thought about being the MVP," he said.
"I was just happy to be on the field."
Linebackers rarely win the MVP and Smith was just the third in 48 years to get the nod, which was decided by a panel of 16 NFL writers.
The others were Chuck Howley of the Dallas Cowboys (1971 Super Bowl) and Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens (2001 Super Bowl).
Smith's crowning moment came in the second quarter when he intercepted a pass from Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and raced 69 yards downfield for a touch town that left MetLife Stadium rocking.
Seattle were already leading 15-0 but the Broncos were on the charge and looking to get some points on the board before halftime. When Smith made it safely to the Broncos' end zone, the game was as good as over.
"I guess we had good coverage on the back end. Peyton kind of scanned the opposite side of the field and was working his way back," Smith explained.
"We had excellent pressure, somebody got the their arm on the ball, I didn't see who.
"I guess the ball came out high and I was just fortunate that the running back was kind of sitting there waiting on it and I just attacked it and took off."
Smith has made a habit of big interceptions. He did not make any in his first 43 games in the NFL but has now made four in last five games, including the game winner in the NFC Conference clash with the San Francisco 49ers.
His road to the top has not been easy. He played for the University of Southern California under Pete Carroll, who is now the coach of the Seattle Seahawks.
When he was still at college, Smith was diagnosed with the rare eating disorder achalasia, which forces him to eat slowly and digest only small amounts of food.
He lost a lot of weight and his chances of making into the NFL started to wane. He was not invited to annual combine, where NFL hopefuls get to show off their athletic ability to prospective teams, but drafted by the Seahawks as the 242nd overall pick.
After a solid start to his NFL career, which is now in its third year, Smith has established himself as a vital cog in a Seattle defensive that is unmatched as the best in the NFL and credits the defense for his MVP award.
"It just represent how our defense played. I'm just here to represent the defense," he said.
"I played well tonight and I had a couple of opportunities. But you've seen guys make these plays all year and tonight was my turn."
(Reporting by Julian Linden, editing by Gene Cherry)