EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Standing near his locker, the one where two footballs were tucked away for safekeeping, Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith repeated the word "fortunate" over and over.
The third player at his position 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 though Smith was a seventh-round pick who was not supposed to start 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 and was part of a dominating defensive performance that helped Seattle beat the Broncos 43-8 for the championship.
"It's unbelievable,'' Smith said. "I'm in shock. We expected a great fight from them. We kind of just dominated the game."
Smith joined the Ravens' Ray Lewis in 2001 and the Cowboys' Chuck Howley in 1971 as linebackers to be picked as Super Bowl MVP. At 24, he also is the fourth-youngest MVP.
"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."
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas were first-team All-Pro selections, and safety Kam Chancellor was second-team All-Pro.
But it was Smith who wound up with the victory-sealing interception at the end of Seattle's NFC Championship Game victory over the 49ers two weeks earlier. And in the biggest game of all, Smith's pick-6 made it 22-0 late in the first half Sunday.
"I was like, 'Again!? No way.' I didn't believe it," Smith said.
He grabbed a fumble in the third quarter, too, as the Seahawks made sure the Broncos never made things interesting.