Glendale, Ariz. -- The most unlikely hero of Super Bowl XLIX seemed to have come out of nowhere, but the Seattle Seahawks had their collective eye on him all season long, and there was one portent of greatness in the previous game Chris Matthews played. Matthews, the undrafted man who came to the NFL by way of Los Angeles Harbor College and played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League in 2012 and '13, was a little-regarded pickup for the Seahawks: he signed a reserve/futures contract with the team last February and started to make his name known in minicamp.
Still, it wasn't until he caught the onside kick in Seattle's amazing comeback win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game that he really hit the national radar to any degree. Soon after that game, though, several people in the franchise talked comprehensively about what the 6-foot-5, 218-pounder could bring to a team in desperate need of bigger playmakers.
"The Chris Matthews play was huge," receiver Jermaine Kearse said the day after the win over the Packers. "I talk to Chris a lot and just to see his progression, even when he was on the practice squad, and when he got elevated to the 53-man roster. Just to see him maximize his opportunities is definitely joyful, because I talk to him a lot, and for him to make a humongous play like that -- that may be the play of the game right there. For him to get the onside and have a heads-up play like that was truly incredible, but it’s what [head coach] Pete [Carroll] instills with his philosophy and this organization of just competing. He gives everyone an equal opportunity to compete, and I feel like that brings the best out of players."
Carroll, who had been talking Matthews up since the first minicamps in May, was equally enthused.
"The first time he participated in special teams he really showed he was a factor," Carroll said that same day. "He could really be unique -- he is so big for a receiver, he crossed over in some areas that made him more valuable to us."
Little did they know. In need of a bigger target against New England's big, fast and aggressive cornerbacks in the Super Bowl, the Seahawks put Matthews out there, and they were rewarded with three of the biggest plays of the game as Seattle built up a lead on the Patriots.
There was the long catch on a perfectly thrown Russell Wilson pass with less than five minutes left in the second quarter -- that one went for 44 yards and was the big play that set up Seattle's first touchdown drive after its offense had stalled for most of the first half. Matthews separated from safety Patrick Chung and adjusted to the ball in the air.
That, by the way, was his first NFL reception.
Then, there was the 11-yard touchdown that the Seahawks went for with just six seconds left in the game -- Matthews found it more than easy to make that play, as the Patriots were playing off, and it was a game of pitch and catch for Wilson.
Then, there was the 45-yard bomb from Wilson to Matthews with 13:48 left in the third quarter -- Matthews got vertical on Chung again, and the Patriots were at a total loss what to do with this guy.
Going into the fourth quarter, Matthews had four catches on four targets for a game-leading 109 yards, and the guy who wasn't even activated from the practice squad until December was the Super Bowl's force multiplier.
Despite his magic early on, the Patriots rallied to stun the Seahawks, picking off Russell Wilson in the endzone with 20 seconds left in the game.