Surprise players often star in Super Bowls

PHOENIX (AP) Almost all football fans know Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Marshawn Lynch and Rob Gronkowski.

The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks wouldn't be playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday if it weren't for their superstars. But both teams got here with lesser-known players coming up big at key times.

Jermaine Kearse caught a touchdown pass in overtime in Seattle's win over Green Bay in the NFC championship game. Julian Edelman threw a TD pass in New England's division-round win over Baltimore.

There's Rob Ninkovich, Michael Bennett and several others. Often, surprise players are the stars in the Super Bowl.

Just look at last year when Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith was the unlikely MVP in Seattle's win over Denver. Smith returned a Peyton Manning interception for a touchdown and recovered a fumble in a 43-8 rout. Now the former seventh-round pick hardly plays on defense.

''That's the beauty of our team that anybody can have an MVP-type of day,'' Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said Wednesday. ''That's what makes us special. I wouldn't be surprised if somebody nobody talks about is MVP.''

Brady, Wilson, Lynch, Gronkowski and LeGarrette Blount have the five best odds of winning the MVP award. But Smith is listed at 100:1 by Bovada.

''To get to this point and to win these games, it's not about anything more than that,'' Smith said. ''That is how we can be successful.''

Ninkovich, one of New England's top pass rushers, is also at 100:1 odds. He had eight sacks in each of the past three seasons and will be a key factor in trying to contain Wilson.

''You can't run past him,'' Ninkovich said. ''Those are when the big plays happen. You have to be under control, but also not just stand there and not do anything to affect him in the pocket. So you just have to be smart.''

Bennett has helped solidify Seattle's defense since arriving from Tampa Bay before the 2013 season. The defensive end gets overlooked on a unit known for the ''Legion of Boom'' secondary featuring Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

''I don't really worry about the atmosphere of the game,'' Bennett said. ''I think for us we treat every game exactly the same and we've been in every situation we could possibly be in.''

Here's a list of some surprise stars from past Super Bowls:

DEXTER JACKSON: Jackson had two interceptions to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Oakland Raiders 48-21 in the 2003 Super Bowl. Teammate Dwight Smith returned two picks for touchdowns against Rich Gannon and Oakland's top-ranked offense, but Jackson got the MVP award. Jackson signed a $14 million, five-year deal with Arizona in free agency, but was released after one season and returned to the Buccaneers.

LARRY BROWN: Brown became the first cornerback to win Super Bowl MVP when his two interceptions helped the Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 in 1996. Brown leveraged that performance into a $12 million, five-year contract with the Raiders in free agency, but lasted only two seasons in Oakland and started just one game.

DAVID TYREE: Tyree only had 54 career catches, but he'll forever be remembered for the helmet grab that helped the New York Giants beat the Patriots 17-14 in the 2008 Super Bowl, snapping New England's perfect season. Giants quarterback Eli Manning was the MVP of the game.

TIMMY SMITH: After running for only 126 yards as a rookie in 1987, Smith set a Super Bowl rushing record with 204 yards and scored two TDs to help the Washington Redskins beat Denver 42-10. Quarterback Doug Williams was the MVP of the game. Smith played only two more seasons in the NFL and ran for another 476 yards total.

ROD MARTIN: Martin had more interceptions (three) against Ron Jaworski in Oakland's 27-10 win over Philadelphia in the 1981 Super Bowl than he had in his first four seasons in the NFL. Martin eventually went to two Pro Bowls and was a productive player for eight more seasons. Quarterback Jim Plunkett was MVP of the win over the Eagles.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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