This Super Bowl, I’m celebrating the underdog spirit

Living with SMA, I relate to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy

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by Alyssa Silva |

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With Super Bowl LVIII around the corner, it’s a bittersweet feeling for avid football fans like me who enjoy watching countless hours of football every week. On the one hand, the thrill of the most exciting game of the year fires me up. But on the other hand, I feel melancholic knowing the season is ending.

I’ve loved sports all my life. Living in New England, I’ve witnessed some of the best teams win title after title in their respective leagues. With such talent and determination exemplified during a game, I’ve always been intrigued by the character and integrity of the players. Beyond their statistics and number of games played, what drives these players to be great? What inspires them to work hard and find their mental fortitude? What’s their story off the playing field?

My beloved New England Patriots didn’t make it to the Super Bowl this year, but the San Francisco 49ers did. Among the star quarterbacks who have graced the Super Bowl stage, Brock Purdy stands as the one to watch this year. His story immediately captured my attention.

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Succeeding in spite of the odds

Purdy was picked last in the 2022 NFL draft. Many were leery of his abilities, but 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan saw potential. Purdy joined the team that year as a third-string quarterback and got his chance to play by a stroke of luck (and some unfortunate injuries with the other quarterbacks). Though he outshined the organization’s expectations during his short stint of playing last season, that wasn’t enough to secure his chance to be this season’s starting quarterback.

My friend was telling me this story over breakfast one morning. As he explained how the team was still considering other quarterbacks to take that No. 1 spot, I couldn’t help but ask why Purdy’s abilities weren’t being respected. He’d clearly proven his worth, and his work ethic was admirable.

My friend’s answer was surprising yet familiar. “Brock was picked last,” he said. “He’s the underdog.”

Living with SMA, I’ve been pinned as the underdog all my life. At 33 years old, I’m still fighting twice as hard as my peers to show my worth. I’m still showing up in spaces where my abilities are overshadowed by my disability. And I’m still having to prove otherwise to those around me.

Being physically disabled often means that others assume my physical weaknesses hinder my ability to be successful. After all, my disability is on display for the world to see. I can’t walk. I have someone with me at all times to feed me, adjust my head, move my arms, transfer me to and from my wheelchair, and so on. Strangers use my visible disability as an invitation to judge me. But when they do, they don’t heed my inner strength.

Of course, my disability does hold me back in some regards. (It’s not like I’m going skydiving anytime soon.) However, it doesn’t sate my hunger for success. Living with a disability is how I’ve learned to harness the power of strength, resilience, and determination — the same tools I apply in the pursuit of my goals.

I wish more people understood this. I wish more people understood that it’s not about what I can and can’t do in life, but rather who’s willing to take a chance on me and see my potential.

Two years ago, Shanahan took a chance on a kid named Brock Purdy. Then, in the 2023-24 season, Purdy became the starting quarterback and led his team to the Super Bowl.

In a way, I feel connected to him. Although he and I have different stories, we have the same underdog quality, tying us closer than most. We have people in our lives who bet on us and our abilities and watched us rise to the occasion. We have the willingness and drive to succeed in spite of the odds.

In my journey, much like Purdy’s, being labeled the underdog was a source of motivation rather than a hindrance. As his team heads into the Super Bowl this weekend, it becomes an anthem for anyone who’s ever been underestimated. It becomes a testament to what happens when you lead with resilience and determination. Regardless of the outcome at the end of the game, the underdog has already won.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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