SEATTLE, WA – Super Bowl XLVIII (48), played on February 2, is the most-watched television program in American history. An astonishing 111.5 million viewers watched this professional football championship game, according to the Nielsen ratings, which means more than half of the nation’s entire population.
And in the thick of it all, during a frenziSuped pace in which the two combatant teams tried to take control of the game, all cameras were on one player, his name – MARAGOS – embedded on the back of his jersey. “Hey, Maragos! That’s Greek!” tens of thousands of Greek-Americans from coast to coast no doubt exclaimed. “That’s really a blessing from the Lord and something I don’t take lightly,” Chris Maragos, a safety and special teams player for the Seattle Seahawks, who went on to rout the Denver Broncos and win the game, told TNH. “Hopefully, through my play, I can represent [Greek-Americans] in a way that they will feel proud.”
“I’m from Racine, WI,” Maragos says. My parents are Nick and Cindy Maragos. My father is full-blooded Greek and my mother is full-blooded Italian. My family members and culture have really helped shape who I am today by showing me work ethic, commitment, and integrity. Growing up with such culture in our family, I really understood what it looked like to sacrifice and love unconditionally something that rings true throughout the people.”
Of the 100 million-plus viewers who typically tune in to the Super Bowl year in, year out, many of them are only casual fans of the game, and get together for Super Bowl parties that feature eating, drinking, socializing, making fun bets on what the final score will be, and commenting on the dozen or so brand new commercials that advertisers pay many millions to debut.
But to bona fide football fans, Super Bowl XLVIII was an epic battle. A classic confrontation between the greatest offense that season, and one of the greatest of all time (Broncos) versus most ferocious defense – of 2014 and also one of the all-time greats (Seahawks).
The event also focused on one player in particular, Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning, and his remarkable comeback. Manning is a member of football’s most heralded family. What the Adamses, Bushes, Kennedys, and Roosevelts are to politics in terms of generational family dominance, the Mannings are to football. Manning’s father, Archie, was a gifted quarterback on the then-subpar New Orleans Saints in the 1970s. Manning’s younger brother, Eli, is also a quarterback, for the New York Giants, and has won two Super Bowls.
Peyton Manning turned pro in 1998 and by 2010 had won a Super Bowl (appeared in another but lost), and the season’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award four times. But offseason neck surgery threatened his return to the game, but return he did, heading from the Indianapolis Colts to the Broncos and in 2013 leading them to a Super Bowl berth in a spectacular offensive showcase of a year, in which he set the NFL record for most touchdown passes (55) and won his fifth MPV award.
And then, in the Super Bowl, the Seahawks shut him down.
By the end of the game, the Super Bowl’s featured attraction quickly changed from the Manning-led Broncos high-octane offense to the Seahawk’s vaunted defense – a squad undaunted by the Manning mystique – of which Maragos proudly was part.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW?
The Broncos had the ball first, millions around the world poised to watch Manning light up the scoreboard. But 12 seconds later, the Broncos fumbled in the endzone. Seattle had scored a safety and led the game, 2-0. By halftime, 2-0 had become 22-0 in the Seahawks’ favor – and 22 points for the Broncos to make up didn’t seem like such a daunting task. But when the Seahawks’ Percy Harvin returned the second half’s opening kickoff for a touchdown, “that’s when I knew we were going to win the game,” Maragos told TNH. “Our defense was playing really well and that gave us momentum we needed to finish the game the way we did,” he added. And finish strong they did, scoring another 14 points beyond that to rout the Broncos 43-8.
NO STATS, NO GLORY
Though the game’s main story became the Seattle defense, and the Seahawks’ Linebacker Malcolm Smith was named MVP of the game, “being a safety and special teams player is something that doesn’t get the glory as much as say the quarterback or running back,” Maragos said. In fact, of 38 Super Bowls, Smith is only one of nine defensive players to win MVP, as compared to 26 who were quarterbacks. “But you have to be smart and reliable” to play safety and special teams positions, Maragos said. “A lot of times at safety we will line up the whole defense and everyone is relying on you to make the calls the right way. The same is true on special teams where you have to be very detailed and reliable to the rest of the guys on the field with you to make sure everything is running properly.” Those are the skills that set up the big plays – the ones that the fans remember.
If individual defensive/special teams players are rarely glorified, being part of one of the greatest defensive squads in football history certainly helps, Maragos said. “It think it benefits my career a ton,” he said. “Everyday I was pushed by 23 or so guys on our defense to be the best we could be. I learned so much about work ethic, commitment, and sacrifice that I will carry with me not only in football but for the rest of my life.”
ROAD TO THE SUPER BOWL
Though the Seahawks thoroughly dominated in the big game, they barely got there by squeaking by the San Francisco 49ers, Maragos’ old team, in the Conference Championship Game. Was it particularly satisfying to get there by beating his old team? “As a competitor you really don’t look at it that way,” Maragos said. At past history or your old team, in this case. It was satisfying beating the 49ers because they were a rival and a really good team in our division, and we knew was going to be a hard game.” Though Maragos can forever claim himself a Super Bowl champion, he is no longer on a championship team. During the off-season, he left the Seahawks and joined the Philadelphia Eagles, a team with a loyal fan base no less intense than Seattle’s and which has seen its share of disappointments in recent years. Maragos appreciates his old fans and looks forward to the new ones. “I’m grateful to have played for some great organizations and fan bases, and I’m really excited for the next chapter with the Eagles.”
JESUS BIGGER THAN FOOTBALL
“It’s really a blessing for me to represent the Lord,” says the very spiritual Maragos, as well as Greek people overall by playing football in the National Football League.” The Beatles’ John Lennon drew ire the world over when he declared: “we are more popular than Jesus now.” Maragos, whose brother Troy is a pastor at the Harvest Bible Chapel, sees things differently: reaching the pinnacle of the football world, “you really see how empty that is,” but “having Jesus in my life, [I] see how important that is, because He really is everything,” he said in an interview with Pastor Mark Driscoll leading up to the big game. To describe his Lord and Savior, Maragos, appropriately enough, uses a reference that is both Biblical and Hellenic: “He is the alpha and the omega.”
Meanwhile, back to football, as Maragos closes one chapter in Seattle, with as great an ending as one can imagine, he readies to begin a new one in the City of Brotherly Love. Attorney George Horiates, President Federation of Hellenic-American Societies of Philadelphia and Greater Delaware Valley and an Eagles fan, told TNH “the Eagles have had a run of Greek-Americans on the team over the years: Pete Pihos, Mackrides, Joe Panos,…we welcome the addition of Chris Maragos and hope he pushes us over the top.” And Nick Yiantsos enthusiastically added: “as an Eagles season ticket holder for over 25 years, I am very excited about the trade. I plan to purchase several Maragos shirts as soon as they are available.”