In Super Bowl V, the Cowboys' Chuck Howley was voted the game’s Most Valuable Player – even though his team lost.
In Super Bowl XII, Dallas defensive linemen Harvey Martin and Randy White shared MVP honors, despite the presence of such Hall of Fame teammates as Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett.
And in last year’s Super Bowl victory by the Seahawks, under-the-radar linebacker Malcolm Smith shined brighter than Legion of Boomers Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas – by returning an interception for a touchdown and getting a fumble recovery – to be named MVP in the victory over Denver.
While usually the Super Bowl MVP winds up in the hands of a star quarterback, running back or wide receiver, occasionally the MVP goes to a surprise contributor or defender.
Given the matchup of the Seahawks and Patriots in Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX, here are five players who – under the right circumstances – might join the list of surprise MVPs:
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks wide receiver
When the Patriots and Seahawks last played in 2012, Baldwin had a big impact. He caught just two passes, but one was a 24-yarder for a touchdown, and the other went for 50 yards. Obviously, he’s not intimidated by the Patriots (though the personnel has changed some over two seasons). Plus, Baldwin is coming off a big NFC Championship Game performance, with six catches for 106 yards.
Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots kicker
No kicker ever has won game MVP, but Gostkowski could be just the man. The Seattle defense was the best in the NFL this season, so TD opportunities could be limited for New England. Even if Tom Brady & Co. move the ball up and down the field, Seattle is strong in the red zone. That could mean a lot of field-goal attempts for the reliable Gostkowski, in his ninth season with the Pats. This season he was 35-of-37 on field goals with a long of 53 yards.
Julian Edelman, Patriots wide receiver
The Seahawks defense will be acutely aware of tight end Rob Gronkowski, and containing him will be its No. 1 goal in the passing game. Edelman, however, is a consistent, elusive receiver who often seems to be effective even when defenses are well aware of him. After 92 regular-season catches, he’s had 25 in two playoff games. Plus, Edelman is a dangerous punt returner, with four taken all the way back for TDs in six seasons.
Bruce Irvin, Seahawks outside linebacker
This week, Irvin called Seattle one of the “top defenses to ever play” in the NFL because of its depth and talent. While Irvin is a big contributor, he’s overshadowed by some of the bigger names on defense. At 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds, Irvin – in just his third season – has long arms, an ability to get to the passer and a knack for making big plays. This season he had 6½ sacks and two interceptions, scored two TDs and was in on 37 tackles. He could be a focal point of whatever scheme defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has to put pressure on Brady.
Jonas Gray, Patriots running back
In recent games, LeGarrette Blount has been New England’s go-to back, and he’s been exceptional. But the Patriots believe in going with matchups, hot hands (or feet) and a committee approach. Gray is one of three Pats backs with more carries this season than Blount, and he averaged 4.6 yards per attempt this season. At 5-foot-10 and 225 pounds, he’s a rugged back, a bit like Blount, and could keep getting the ball if he gets off to a good start. Earlier this season, Gray rushed for 201 yards in a win over the Colts.
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