We’re still getting to know Russell Wilson this week, but his relative NFL anonymity outside the Pacific Northwest won’t last long. The ebullient Seattle Seahawks quarterback is all but inviting everyone to jump in for his ride along the Super Bowl XLVIII highway.
So what if the crowd in front of the Richard Sherman stage has been twice as thick this week? “He’s a great football player,” Wilson explained with an enormous smile. So is Wilson, but he is so understated about his superlatives, you can easily forget how remarkable he is.
Wilson, 25, has notched more victories, 24, than any second-year quarterback in NFL history, moving past Ben Roethlisberger’s 22 wins in his first two seasons. He’s listed at a generous 5-feet, 11 inches, a perceived height detriment that saw him slip to the third round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Of course, 31 other NFL teams claim today they also saw something special in Wilson, the triple-threat quarterback/baseball player/gifted student who graduated with a BA in communications in three years from North Carolina State and transferred to Wisconsin, in part, because his desire to also pursue professional baseball was so strong.
Selected by the Colorado Rockies in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB Draft, Wilson the second baseman bounced around the minor leagues but began turning NFL heads with a brilliant senior season at Wisconsin in 2011. He was a team captain and a powerful running threat who could block and throw just as easily off-balance or downfield.
"I kind of wanted to go against the odds," Wilson said. "I was a 5-11 quarterback, I had big hands, I could run. I was not going to let being a 5-11 quarterback stop me. My height doesn't define my skill set and my intelligence for the game."
These were physical skills that more than compensated for a lack of ideal height. The intelligence, character and work ethic are reminiscent of the iconic Denver Broncos quarterback Wilson will face on Sunday.
He is a younger facsimile of Peyton Manning: same attention to detail, same razor focus, physical ability and keen football mind. Wilson, in fact, attended Manning’s passing academy as a high school sophomore.
Their fathers played in the NFL. Archie Manning was a quarterback legend during the paper-bag shame era of New Orleans Saints’ futility.
Harrison B. Wilson III was a brilliant football player and scholar at Dartmouth and president of his law school class at the University of Virginia. Russell Wilson’s father collected his prestigious degrees, then set them aside for his one shot at the NFL, in training camp with the 1980 San Diego Chargers.
Harry Wilson’s impact on his Chargers teammates was so profound, they dubbed him “The Professor,” even though he never made the final roster.
Harry also never made it on this earth long enough to see his son play in the NFL. A long, difficult struggle with diabetes led to Harry Wilson’s death in 2010 due to complications from the disease. He was only 55.
The father’s imprint on his meticulous son, much like Archie’s on Peyton, is evident as you watch Russell Wilson deliver on the field, or captivate an audience during a Super Bowl interview session.
“(My father) might have been 28, somewhere around there, 29 years old when he went to go play for the Chargers. I remember Kellen Winslow used to call him ‘The Professor’ because he used to have those big, old school glasses,” Wilson recalled this week. “I just remember my dad talking about Dan Fouts and Kellen Winslow and those guys, how talented they were and how much work they put in all the time, how their mind was never going to settle, no matter how good they were doing or how bad they were doing.
“The other thing that I learned from my dad is that you always have to persevere, have a great purpose in your life and understand where you're trying to go, have a great perspective. Those three things -- those three ‘Ps’ -- that he used to always tell me, were so real and they still stick with me today. It's the same thing going throughout this week with all the talk. I'm as calm as I can be, to be honest with you."
What else has helped? Appreciation for, and advice from, other greats in the NFL.
"I've talked to Terry Bradshaw. I've talked to Drew Brees, those two people. Talking to those guys, you know it's no different,” Wilson said of his approach to the biggest game of his life. “Just try to be as normal as possible. I think the biggest thing is to be poised. That is one of my strengths, but when you have a game like this and all the cameras are going on, and all the excitement that you've been working your whole life to get there.
“Your nerves will be up a little bit; just turn them down a little bit.”
Wilson’s teammates feed off his well-honed poise. They love his catch phrases, such as “Go against the odds,” or “There’s a king in every crowd.”
“The one thing I always say about him is he’s so much more mature for his age,” Seahawks tight end Zach Miller said. “He plays like he’s so much older and he doesn’t make very many mistakes. If he makes a mistake, it’s such a rarity and everyone kind of laughs about it.
“He’s just so on-point with his game plan, with his film study, and everything he does is of a mature quarterback.”
Said coach Pete Carroll, “We’ve never seen anything from Russell that wasn’t a consistent: direction, support, mindset, character, work habits; he’s never changed at all. Nothing’s ever changed. The way we deal with him has been very consistent because he’s been so rock-solid consistent. He’s ready for this opportunity. “
None of this is by accident. Harry Wilson, The Professor, trained his son very well.
“It’s still going to be first, second and third down,” Wilson said Wednesday, beaming at the thought of a Super Bowl Sunday only days away. “It’s still going to be red zone. It’s still going to come down to a two-minute drive before the half and at the end of the game.
“Hopefully, I pull through and win the game for us."
If that happens, it will not be a surprise to anyone who knows Russell Wilson. As The Professor used to tell his boy, “Why not you, Russ?
“Why not you?”
Nancy Gay is the Senior Managing Editor of CSNBayArea.com and CSNCalifornia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NancyGay.