NEWARK - No one thought he would be here.
No one in the NFL thought that Derrick Coleman, diagnosed as deaf at age 3, would ever make it to the Super Bowl. Few thought he could play in the league, period. The truth is that Coleman made NFL general managers a little nervous.
"Many of the people were very unsure about what sort of way it would handicap the coaches," said Rick Neuheisel, who was Coleman's coach at UCLA. "I told them they weren't even going to notice except that maybe the running backs coach was going to have to stand on the other side of the ball so he could read his lips.
"Derrick has overcome his disability in such a way that no one even notices that it's a disability. He is just determined."
Coleman's determination and perseverance, as chronicled in a recent Duracell commercial that has gone viral, have made him a global celebrity.
At Super Bowl Media Day Tuesday, the Seattle Seahawks fullback found himself surrounded by reporters and fielding questions from outlets as varied and far flung as ESPN, the BBC, People Magazine and a newspaper from Australia.
As much as Coleman would like to just be a regular football player, he knows that he carries a larger responsibility coming into this game as being a role model for deaf people, especially deaf children.
"The hardest thing about being in the deaf community is getting over wall one," Coleman said. "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 reason for Coleman's hearing loss has never been pinpointed, though he said it is thought to be genetic. Coleman said he didn't have a deaf athletic role model when he was growing up, but what he did have was two parents who were insistent that he could do what he wanted with his life.
"They always said to me, 'Just go out there and be you. Don't worry about anyone else,' " he said. "They said if people start to make fun of you, just walk away. My mom would tell me you only want to surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed."
Perhaps this is why Coleman was able to get over the disappointment of not being drafted in 2012 despite having rushed for 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns at UCLA. The Vikings signed Coleman as a free agent, but he was waived in training camp. The Seahawks signed him in December 2012, making him the NFL's first legally deaf offensive player.
He became the Seahawks' Week 1 starter as veteran Michael Robinson was cut after suffering an illness. Robinson has since re-signed, and Coleman is now his backup. The team has had to make few accommodations for Robinson, with the only notable one being that quarterback Russell Wilson will take his mouth guard out when calling plays so that he can read his lips.
"Everyone is impressed by him," Wilson said of Coleman. "Not just as a player, but as a person."
Neuheisel, who now works as a television analyst for the Pac-12 Network, isn't the least bit surprised that it's all working out for Coleman.
Said Neuheisel: "He's a great person and an incredible story."