Every Super Bowl participant has a journey worth telling. There just may not be one as inspiring as Seattle Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman, nor one as touching as Coleman's relationship with Riley and Erin Kovalcik, 9-year-old twins from New Jersey who have a story all their own.
Coleman, who is legally deaf, gained increased notoriety for himself and his condition when appearing in a Duracell battery commercial in January. The spot features a dramatization of Coleman's journey for being picked on for being deaf through his NFL triumph, and it quickly went viral, scoring more than 15 million views as of this publication.
Ultimately, the commercial landed at the Kovalcik home, where Riley, also hearing-impaired, saw fit to write Coleman a touching letter as the Seahawks were making their way through the playoffs. In a different time, perhaps this letter winds up in the same drawer where all parents leave their letters to Santa Claus.
But in today's information age—where anyone can be reached at any time thanks to the power of social media—Jake Kovalcik's decision to share that letter on Twitter created the unlikeliest of friendships. On Jan. 21, Jake Kovalcik tweeted out Riley's letter of support, mentioning the Seahawks and Coleman:
Again, things could have ended there. Athletes and professional sports franchises are inundated with messages on their Twitter accounts on the daily. Sifting through and finding that one specific tweet is nearly as unlikely as Coleman playing in the NFL and a young girl on the complete opposite side of the United States finding inspiration in his story.
Yet Coleman did more than find the letter on his Twitter account. Where most athletes would have responded with a simple "thank you" or a similar nod of thanks (again, if they saw the letter at all), Coleman responded with one of his own:
Asked about why he chose to respond—Coleman's Twitter feed has only 18 tweets since he opened it earlier this month—the 23-year-old said it was the lack of assumptiveness of the letter that got to him, per Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times:
I retweeted it when I first saw it on Twitter. I think the biggest thing was that it was one of those things where she’s not asking for anything, not a autograph or something. She’s just saying, ‘I have faith in you. You’re my inspiration, and I hope you do well in everything you do.’ That kind of just touched my heart a little bit.
It didn't stop there. Upon hearing of the Riley's story, ABC's Good Morning America invited the Kovalcik family on the show to tell their story during Super Bowl week. There, she and Erin spoke of how they were inspired by the commercial.
“The first time I saw it, we were actually tearing a little bit,” Riley said, via ABC News' Rich McHugh and Katie Conway. “We were so happy that there was actually somebody that was good and could understand everything about hearing aids and that could help you.”
This being television and all, Riley and Erin weren't just there to tell their story. They were there to meet their idol. Coleman came out to surprise the twins, not only making their dreams come true by introducing himself in person, but also inviting the entire Kovalcik family to watch the Seahawks play the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Coleman hardly needed a national television commercial or made-for-TV relationship with hearing-impaired twins to make his story one worth telling in the most raucous of all media weeks. Undrafted out of UCLA in 2012, Coleman was an August cut of the Minnesota Vikings and managed only to latch onto the Seahawks' practice squad by that December.
Even then, Coleman's journey to the 53-man roster was unlikely. Not only was he the first legally deaf offensive player in NFL history, he played a dying position of fullback and was buried in the preseason on the depth chart behind Michael Robinson and Spencer Ware. Arguably only a serious illness suffered by Robinson, who was cut and re-signed with the team in October, kept Coleman employed.
But Coleman has certainly made the most of his opportunity. He's thrived on special teams and established himself as Seattle's backup fullback after Ware went down with an ankle injury—perhaps for good. He finished the regular season with three yards on two carries and also had 62 yards receiving on eight receptions.
With so many inanities about legacy and overreactions about Richard Sherman's every word and Marshawn Lynch's lack of words, it's nice to see a story actually worth telling getting the attention it deserves. Now, it's up to Coleman and his Seahawks teammates to determine whether this has an even happier ending.
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