Real, as the phrase goes, knows real.
So when twin sisters Riley and Erin Kovalcik's heart-felt letter showed up on Derrick Coleman's Twitter feed two weeks ago, the Seattle Seahawks running back instantly was drawn to its genuineness.
Coleman, the former UCLA standout, is the first legally deaf player in the NFL. Riley and Erin are 9-year-old identical twins from New Jersey. Inspired by watching a Duracell commercial in which Coleman recalls getting picked on because he was deaf, the sisters wrote him a letter.
Riley wrote: “I know how you feel. I also have hearing aids. Just try your best. I have faith in you.”
Their father tweeted it to Coleman soon after the Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game to advance to the Super Bowl.
The sincerity immediately struck him.
“I think the biggest thing was that it was one of those things where she's not asking for anything, not a autograph or something,” Coleman said. “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.”
He later tweeted the sisters back.
“Even though we wear hearing aids, we can still accomplish our goals & dreams!” it read.
Coleman, whose deafness was diagnosed when he was 3, expounded on his re-tweet this week in New York.
“I just thought I would take five or 10 minutes before practice and reply to her,” Coleman said. “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.”
The exchange between the girls and their football hero went viral.
Coleman's profile, meanwhile, skyrocketed.
When he arrived this week with his Seahawks for Super Bowl XLVIII, he did so as an inspiration to the deaf community around the world, not to mention a bit of a celebrity.
“It's definitely great. That's one of the reasons Duracell and I linked up,” Coleman said. “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,” Coleman said. “Just trust the power within and do what you want to do. That's basically what I'm doing.”
It's a role he is embracing and hopes others in the deaf community use as motivation to push through any perceived ceilings.
“The hardest thing about being in the deaf community is getting over wall one,” Coleman said. “Everything I do is going to affect them in terms of perception. Everything they do is going to affect me. 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.”
Coleman is testimony of that in figuring out ways to survive on the football field despite his limited hearing.
When the Seahawks offense huddles up, he makes sure to be right in front of quarterback Russell Wilson or right next to him in order to hear the play call better or pick it up by reading Wilson's lips.
And if he breaks the huddle without picking up the play, he immediately will pull Wilson aside and ask for help.
“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,” Coleman said. “I need to know the play just as well as anybody else.”
At the line of scrimmage, if Wilson yells out an audible, Coleman will try to read his quarterback's lips to get the new play.
Thus far, his hearing has not been an issue.
Coleman never doubted it would.
“I think I'm pretty good. There are some different things to it,” he said. “I wouldn't have gotten this far, I wouldn't have even gotten to college. That's why everybody who thinks, 'Oh, well you wouldn't be able to play in the NFL,' ... I played Division I college football. I played in some loud stadiums. Oregon, Tennessee, and I still did fine there.”
And he is doing fine with the Seahawks.
“I'm making that step. That's why I go and talk to a lot of kids, because when they start making excuses and being lazy and people start getting that perception, they're going to come to me thinking I'm the same way,” Coleman said. “Everything I do affects them and everything they do affects us.”
In the process, his inspiration is extending beyond the deaf community.
“Derrick is an extraordinary kid and regardless of what his issues are, he's an extraordinary person,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He has demonstrated to others that have that kind of issue, how far you can take it and what you can do and how there are no boundaries. He's done a marvelous job of that. Meanwhile, being a great kid and a great football player, too.”
Coleman's two newest fans will be at MetLife Stadium on Sunday to watch their hero play in the Super Bowl. Coleman made sure of that when he surprised the twins with tickets to the game.
All because of one very special letter.