JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- There may not be a more inspirational story at the Super Bowl – this or any other one past or future – than that of Seattle backup fullback Derrick Coleman.
Diagnosed as deaf at the age of three, Coleman is the first legally deaf offensive player in the NFL.
Coleman went undrafted out of UCLA despite having rushed for 765 yards and 11 touchdowns his senior year. He signed with the Vikings as a free agent but was cut in training camp. He signed with the Seahawks in December of 2012.
All he wanted was a chance.
"The hardest thing about being in the deaf community is getting over wall one," Coleman said on media day. "What I'm doing now, getting the opportunity to play for the Seattle Seahawks and play in the Super Bowl, that's basically saying that you can do what you want to do, too."
The reasons for Coleman’s hearing loss have never been diagnosed. He wears hearing aids that, in his words, take his hearing from about a 2 to about a “6, 7 or 8 depending on the day,” on a scale of 1-10.
Still, not always enough to hear the quarterback in a – for lack of a better word – deafening NFL stadium.
"I’ve always been 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 if I can’t hear him, I can revert to my backup plan and read lips," he said. "If he ever breaks the huddle and I didn’t understand a play, I’m not embarrassed, I’m not shy to go up to him and say, ‘Hey, I didn’t hear it,’ or just grab him right quick and ask him again. I need to know the play just as well as anybody else."
And what about audibles?
"For me, I just read lips," he said. "That’s my backup plan. I think I’m pretty good. There are some different things to it. I wouldn’t have gotten this far, I wouldn’t have even gotten to college."
Coleman’s story was recently revealed in a Duracell commercial, which, he says, he agreed to do to inspire others.
"We wanted to let them know that whatever accomplishments you want to achieve, regardless of whatever obstacles you have to overcome, you can always endure," he said. "Just trust the power within and do what you want to do. That’s basically what I’m doing.
"One of the biggest parts about that commercial and that whole campaign was what I just wanted to reach out, same as I’ve been doing since college, just reach out to the other hard-of-hearing and deaf community – kids I can relate to and who can relate to me. Just to help them and give them the motivation like I would have needed if I hadn’t had my parents."
Two of those kids, 9-year-old hearing-impaired twins Riley and Erin Kovalcik from New Jersey, reached out to Coleman on Twitter with the help of their father, addressing the letter to “my inspiration Derrick Coleman:
— jake kovalcik (@JakeIsMobile) January 21, 2014
Which prompted this response from Coleman:
— Derrick Coleman Jr (@DC2forlife) January 22, 2014
"Everybody has problems," he said. "Nobody is perfect. I wear a hearing aid, some people have glasses, some people have depression. Everybody has something. But as long as you don’t let that get in the way of what you want to do, you can do anything you want to do."