Super Bowl 2014: 'My deafness has inspired me' says Seattle Seahawks Derrick Coleman
Seattle running back is a winner no matter who triumphs in Super Bowl clash with Denver Broncos
If a neutral could pick any player to score the winning touchdown in tonight's Super Bowl in New Jersey, Derrick Coleman, the Seattle Seahawks' back-up running back, would be a popular choice.
Coleman, 23, is the first legally deaf player to appear in a Super Bowl. Without his two hearing aids he rates his hearing as a two on a scale of 10, and even with them, no better than an eight on a good day. His disability became big news when he agreed to appear in an awareness-raising Duracell commercial showing that it was possible to overcome such adversity.
The ad went viral and that, plus the Seahawks' success, inspired a nine-year-old deaf girl, Riley Kovalcik, to write a supportive fan letter to Coleman, which read: "Just try your best. I have faif [sic] in you." When her father, Jake, tweeted it, Coleman tweeted back , and last week surprised Riley and her twin sister, Erin, also deaf, by personally handing over tickets to the Super Bowl for them and their family.
Even if the perfect ending, with Coleman making a key play tonight, remains unwritten, the story so far is still an inspirational tale of success against the odds and the power of sport to transform lives.
"Sports is really where I get my confidence from," says Coleman, who has been deaf since the age of three. "I always wanted to do sports, even if I sucked. I mainly loved team sports because after a day or two people forgot that I have hearing problems. But I didn't start playing football until the seventh grade [aged 12]."
And yet it was in this complex sport, where communication is key, that he found success – eventually. After a slow start he became a top college player. Yet no NFL team took a chance on him in the 2012 draft, and he was released by the Minnesota Vikings after a few months on their practice squad.
But then Seattle gave him a chance. "Coaches gave up on me, I was cut from teams, I was undrafted," he recalls. "But when people said I couldn't do something, it was motivation. Just watch me. So much of football is the mental game. Being deaf I have always had to be more aware, put in extra effort at whatever I do, and it has carried on to football."
He has developed coping strategies both off the field – where you soon forget his deafness when speaking to him – and on it. "I always get in position in the huddle where the quarterback is either right in front of me or next to me, so I can hear him, or I can revert to my back-up plan and read lips. If ever I didn't understand a play, I'm not embarrassed to go up to him and say, 'Hey, I didn't hear it'. I don't use my hearing as an excuse. I'll find a different excuse before I would ever do that." His own personality and drive to succeed was backed up by supportive parents. When his hearing aids did not fit comfortably inside his helmet, his mother improvised padding from hosiery to keep them in place. But he understands that others do not have that support, and has become a willing spokesman for the deaf.
"I have always been happy to talk to other kids, because I never had a role model of my own like myself growing up," he says. "People said I couldn't do certain things, but I can tell people, 'You can do them. I did'.
"Duracell and I wanted to inspire others, to give them the motivation I would have needed if I hadn't had my parents. Everybody has problems. I wear a hearing aid, some people have glasses, some people have depression. But as long as you don't let that get in the way of what you want to do, you can do anything."
Today's game is billed as a chance for quarterback Peyton Manning to lead the high-octane Denver Broncos offense to victory, although the Seattle defense expects to have plenty to say about that. But even if Derrick Coleman turns out to be just a footnote in the game stats, many already consider him one of the greats.
Did you know?
Viewers were invited to tweet to decide whether David Beckham loses his pants in a Super Bowl TV ad for his underwear brand.
The Broncos have won two Super Bowls and lost four – but never won in their home orange jerseys, which they wear tonight.
Seattle are one of 14 NFL teams never to win the Super Bowl.
Americans will consume 15,000 tons of crisps during Super Bowl.
An estimated $8.2bn (£5bn) will be bet on the Super Bowl worldwide.
Super Bowls are measured in Roman numerals because the season runs into the new year.
Tickets to Super Bowl 1 in 1967 cost $6-$12. Tonight's cheapest is $2,500.
This Super Bowl is the first to be played in an open-air stadium in a cold-weather city.
Domino's predict they will deliver 11m pizzas in the US today.
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