Ex-Badger Maragos on 'surreal' trip to Super Bowl, Seahawks teammate Sherman
Chris Maragos reflects on the perseverance in his career from the Wisconsin Badgers to the Seattle Seahawks, where he's now playing in a Super Bowl along with controversial teammate Richard Sherman.
By Jesse Temple
Maybe Chris Maragos shouldn't be here. The dream of becoming a professional football player certainly could've died on numerous occasions, at least.
It could have ended when Maragos, a Racine, Wis., native, garnered no scholarship offers out of high school. Or when he parted ways with Western Michigan as a walk-on receiver when no scholarship opportunity was imminent. Or when he transferred to Wisconsin and was asked to switch positions from receiver to free safety.
It could have ended when Maragos went undrafted in the NFL in 2010 despite leading the Badgers in interceptions. Or when Maragos was cut by the San Francisco 49ers after one season.
Instead, Maragos is still standing and still living his dream with the Seattle Seahawks -- a team he found a home with three seasons ago. Now, he is one game from attaining the ultimate prize with a story that illustrates the art of perseverance. When Seattle plays Denver in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, Maragos will be front and center as a vital piece to the special teams unit.
"It's crazy," Maragos told FOX Sports Wisconsin by phone Tuesday. "You always see all the lights flashing. The first kickoff, I'm going to be running down on that kickoff with all the lights flashing. It's amazing. It's surreal. It still hasn't set in yet. It's probably a good thing."
Maragos, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound safety, joined the Seahawks' practice squad in September 2011, just weeks after being cut by the 49ers. A month later, he was promoted to Seattle's active roster and has remained there ever since.
Maragos has recorded 37 total tackles in his NFL career over four seasons and one tackle this postseason. The numbers aren't gaudy, but the fact he is here at all is not lost on him.
"I've never been a guy that was the height, weight, size-type guy," Maragos said. "Initially, I wasn't recruited or I wasn't drafted. When I had the opportunity to move to Wisconsin, you saw everything come to fruition and my ability to take over. In the NFL, I didn't have a whole lot of film from college. So I tested out great and didn't have a ton of film. Nobody quite really knew, so I wasn't picked. But once I kind of got in the NFL and got into a program, they saw who I really, truly was.
"Just like I was in Wisconsin was the same thing I was in Seattle. I've always felt that my ability has been there. I haven't had the door open to walk through, per se, coming into college or the NFL. I've had to show them my commitment, my ability, how I help the team. How I do all the little things that don't show up in the stat sheet, all the things that happen to really be able to excel. Fortunately when I get on a team like Wisconsin or Seattle and they finally get their hands on me, they're able to kind of see what type of player that I am."
The line between playing in the Super Bowl and ending a season early is exceptionally thin, and Maragos saw first-hand just how close the difference really is last Sunday.
During Seattle's 23-17 victory against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game, Maragos was flagged for a running into the kicker penalty on fourth-and-10 from the 49ers' own 20-yard line in the third quarter. Though analysts said it should have been roughing the kicker, which results in 15 yards and an automatic first down, the play went for five yards and was declined. Seattle would score a touchdown on the ensuing drive to go ahead 20-17 in the fourth quarter.
Victory wasn't secured until 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an interception into the end zone in the final minute on a ball intended for receiver Michael Crabtree. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman tipped the ball, and it was picked off by outside linebacker Malcolm Smith.
"When I was on the sidelines, where the ball was thrown, a bunch of guys from our team were in the way," Maragos said. "So I had to look up at the Jumbotron, and I saw the ball get tipped. Then Malcolm Smith flashed on the screen and caught it. I was like, 'What's going on?' We were just celebrating. We were so excited. It was amazing to see the excitement of the fans and the players and everybody. It was the culmination of a lot of great things coming together."
Sherman, of course, became an Internet sensation and lightning bolt for criticism for his on-field postgame interview with FOX Sports' Erin Andrews immediately following the victory. During the interview, he called out Crabtree for being "a sorry receiver."
"Don't you open your mouth about the best," Sherman said. "Or I'm gonna shut it for you real quick."
Maragos, like his teammates, saw the interview on highlight packages over the next two days. And Tuesday, he weighed in on the debate.
"Here's the thing about Richard Sherman: He's the greatest guy, honestly," Maragos said. "So smart. He's articulate. He's a great friend. Great teammate. He's so loyal. He's just a really good dude. He does a lot of great stuff off the field. I think all that stuff gets overshadowed because he does have a fiery side to him. Unfortunately, he was coming off the heat of the battle of the game. Him and Crabtree have been talking all throughout the game. They had some stuff from the summer, some previous things. You get a fiery guy like that in the heat of the moment, you're going to get comments like that.
"But fans always are sick of hearing all the cliche answers. They're always, 'Oh, we just want to hear what athletes really have to say.' You're finally getting a guy saying what he wants to say, but nobody wants to accept that. It's kind of a catch-22. Well, what do you want? Speaking of Sherm, he's a great guy, he's a great teammate. And I love playing with him."
The two will have an opportunity to play together once more this season in a game Maragos has been watching on television for years. He noted his favorite Super Bowl memory comes from the 1997 game when Brett Favre and the Packers defeated New England, 35-21. At the time, Maragos was 10 years old, and he distinctly recalls Favre throwing a 54-yard touchdown to receiver Andre Rison on the second play of the game. He also remembers Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter, which helped seal the victory
Though the Packers have been eliminated, this year's Super Bowl should create particular interest for Badgers fans. Maragos is one of four former Badgers players involved with the Seahawks, joining quarterback Russell Wilson, linebacker O'Brien Schofield and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Former Badgers running back Montee Ball, meanwhile, plays for the Broncos.
Does the number of former UW players on Seattle mean fans should side with the Seahawks in the Super Bowl?
"I hope so," Maragos said. "We need all the fans we can get. We need to tack more onto the 12th man. Badgers fans, hop on with us. I know the Packers are out, unfortunately. But we're the next-best thing."