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Seahawks' fullbacks overcome adversities and become Super Bowl inspirations

NEW YORK -- Seattle fullback Michael Robinson thought he had a touch of the flu during training camp. After the second preseason game, he knew he had something far more serious.

It turned out Robinson was stricken with kidney and liver failure. And while in the hospital battling for his life, he found himself unemployed when the Seahawks released him on Aug. 31.

The Super Bowl was the last thing on his mind.

But Robinson, an eight-year veteran, recovered and re-signed with the team in late October. He played a key role as Marshawn Lynch's lead blocker for the Seahawks, who face Denver in Super Bowl XVLIII on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

"This is definitely special," Robinson said. "I wondered if was going to fully recover. I had a long year . . . being sick, being cut, not really realizing the extent of the sickness. I didn't know that my kidneys were failing and my liver was failing. I just thought I was getting a bug . . ."

Robinson had been prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug to treat an ankle injury when he suffered a reaction.

"I was dehydrated and probably getting a bug or a little sick anyway," he said. "I had mentioned to the doctors, 'Look man, I think I'm going to come in next week and get some fluids,' and it just went all downhill from there . . . I went to the hospital three separate times. Two times they sent me home and just told me to keep getting fluids."

Robinson barely ate for two weeks, lost 33 pounds off his 240-pound playing weight by the time specialists diagnosed the problem.

"Once we brought the liver specialist in and the kidney specialist in, they've seen these types of reactions before . . . kidney failure, liver failure, all of it . . . and they were all over it," Robinson said

Meanwhile, there were games to be played, and the Seahawks found themselves a new fullback in Derrick Coleman, who finished the 2012 season on the club's practice squad.

Coleman, who had overcome a disability himself -- he was diagnosed as deaf at age 3 and wears hearing aids -- proved capable of playing fullback, and the Seahawks released Robinson on Aug. 31 when teams had to reduce their rosters to 53 players.

"It was a tough blow," Robinson said. "But it's a business. You're paid to do a job. If I'm not able to put a product out on the field, you're not able to keep your job."

The Seahawks gave Robinson some assurance that once he was fully recovered, there would be a spot for him.

"They knew it would be a two- or three-week thing," said Robinson, a former quarterback at Penn State who fills several roles with the Seahawks, both on offense and on special teams. "Once got well, if the opportunity presented itself, they would pick me up. . . . I've got my weight back, got my strength back, and it was an opportunity to come back."

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was glad to get Robinson back on the team.

"Probably there were moments when Michael thought he might not ever get another chance," Carroll said. "So when we did come back to him, it was very meaningful for Michael. He is a big factor on our team because we don't have that many older guys, and he really stands for the old guard.

"He never thought, 'Maybe I'll never get this chance again.' Then he comes back to play and he gets to play in the Super Bowl."

Still, Robinson, who had spent four seasons with San Francisco before signing Seattle as a free agent in 2010, wrestled with the idea of returning to the team that had released him during such a traumatic time and offered him a prorated contract for $494,118 compared to the $2.5 million salary he would have earned had he not been cut.

But he knew the Seahawks were on the cusp of something special.

"It was easy when I looked at my relationship with the guys on the team," Robinson said. "That's why you play this game, and I feel like a big reason why we're here is that every man in that locker room thinks the same way.

"We all play because of the guy next to you. You all perform because the guy next to you is counting on you. Peer accountability, the biggest thing is accountability, so that's what we try to do. "

In the meantime, Robinson developed a relationship with Coleman, who ended up appearing in 12 games, starting three.

"I love 'D.C.' I tell him all the time . . . I have the utmost respect for what he does and how he plays this game," Robinson said. "I couldn't imagine being impaired in some way . . . and he does a great job. It's been awesome working with him and he is the future of the fullback position here. He understands that I know that, so I just try to give him as much knowledge and help him out as much as possible."

Coleman, an undrafted rookie from UCLA in 2012, gained national attention two weeks ago when a Duracell commercial highlighted the fact he's the only current NFL player who wears hearing aids. He inspired a 9-year-old girl, Riley Kovalcik from New Jersey, to write him. When her father put the letter on Twitter, it became a sensation.

"I retweeted it when I first saw it on Twitter," said Coleman, who re-connected with Riley and her twin sister this week and gave them tickets to Sunday's game. "The biggest thing was she's not asking for anything, not an 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 made me feel warm. So I just thought I would take five or 10 minutes before practice and reply to her. Every now and then that makes a big difference and that's kind of what I wanted to do. I'm pretty sure that letter probably helped them take the next step or whatever they have to do."

Coleman hopes his playing in the Super Bowl inspires others.

"The hardest thing about being in the deaf community is getting over wall one," he said. "What I'm doing now, getting the opportunity to play for the Seattle Seahawks and getting the chance to play in the Super Bowl, that's basically saying that when people are hard of hearing now, you can do it too. They're not going to be saying you can't do it because you're hard of hearing.

"That's one of the reasons Duracell and I linked up. We wanted 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. I just wanted to reach out to the other hard-of-hearing and deaf community . . . 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."

(c)2014 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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