Russell Wilson grew up in Richmond, Virginia, hearing from a bevy of self-appointed experts that he was too small to play football. He spent the first five weeks of his college career splitting time with other quarterbacks before he was finally named the North Carolina State team’s starter. At training camps to prepare for the 2012 NFL draft, coaches praised him to the heavens but always added a caveat – “The only issue with Russell Wilson is his height.”
This oft-repeated bit of conventional wisdom sounded eminently reasonable, since Wilson is 5’11” at his tallest.
When the NFL Draft Day finally arrived in April 2012, the Seattle Seahawks picked Wilson in the third round and 75th overall, long after some of the year’s media darlings had been chosen by other teams.
The Seahawks planned to use Wilson as a back-up for a quarterback they had acquired at great expense during 2012 offseason, so Wilson set about using the spring training camp to prove his worth to the team. By the time of the Seahawk’s first regular-season game in late August, Wilson had earned the starting spot by outperforming the team’s two other quarterbacks, both on the practice field and in exhibition games.
As the 2012 football season began, NFL analysts ranked Wilson behind the year’s flashier rookie quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck (who, like Wilson, posed dual threats – as strong runners and good passers – to opposing teams). No matter. Wilson put his head down and went to work.
During his first season with the Seahawks (2012), Wilson achieved a passer rating of 100.0, ranking fourth overall among NFL quarterbacks and surpassing the previous rookie-season record of 98.1, set by Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. He passed for 3,118 yards and 26 touchdowns, tying Peyton Manning’s record for touchdowns in a rookie season. Also a threat with his feet, Wilson rushed for 489 yards and four touchdowns. The Seahawks reached the playoffs and lost in the second (of four) rounds to the Atlanta Falcons.
This (spectacular, breathtaking, highly recommended) video review of Wilson’s 2012 highlights features both his powerful arm and his tremendous scrambling ability.
The Seahawks opened Wilson’s second season, in 2013, with the first 4-0 start in the history of the Seattle franchise. After a loss in Week 5, the team won seven straight games. Wilson passed for 26 touchdowns during the regular season and finished with a passer rating of 101.5. He became the first quarterback in the Superbowl era to achieve passer ratings over 100 in each of his first two seasons.
The Seahawks’ 13-3 record in 2013 assured the team their conference’s top seed, a bye in the first week of the playoffs, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. A hard-fought win over the San Francisco 49ers at the NFC conference final propelled the Seahawks to the Superbowl in February of 2014 in frigid New Jersey, where they thumped Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos by a score of 43-8.
2014 finds the Seahawks on a mission to return to the Superbowl in a highly competitive conference that includes Colin Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49ers and Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers (and several other strong teams). With the Seahawks’ spectacular defensive squad weakened slightly by post-season personnel changes, this year’s team needs to rely more heavily than usual on the offense and specifically on Wilson. So far Wilson has delivered. This past Monday night, in a messy game at the Washington Redskins that saw three Seahawks’ touchdowns called back because of penalties, Wilson used his dual-threat abilities as a running quarterback to devastating effect. He set a Monday Night Football record for quarterback rushing yards with 122 and became the first quarterback in Monday Night Football’s 45-year history to pass for more than 200 yards and rush for more than 100 yards in a single game.
This year, in Wilson’s third season, the player who grew up being told that he was too small to play football is one of the experts’ early candidates for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player (MVP).
In many ways, Wilson is a marketing expert’s dream. He remains very close to his family, whom he credits for emphasizing education and helping him to establish a strong work ethic. He keeps his public image clean and speaks candidly about his religious faith. In his spare time over the summer, he runs eight Russell Wilson Passing Academy football camps, which offer scholarships for underprivileged youth, in six cities in the U.S. and Canada. Every week during the football season, he visits critically ill children at Seattle Children’s hospital.
Companies that include Nike, American Family Insurance, Bose, Pepsi, Microsoft, Duracell, Braun, Larson Automotive Group, and Eat the Ball (a European bread company) have flocked to sign Wilson as a spokesman. Alaska Airlines hired Wilson as its “Chief Football Officer,” in which role he occasionally meets incoming passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
In a direct response to the scourge of violence that has tarnished the NFL’s image this year, Wilson wrote a recent column about domestic violence for Derek Jeter’s blog, The Players’ Tribune. Describing himself as a “recovering bully,” Wilson urged his fellow athletes to take responsibility for their behavior and introduced an anti-domestic violence campaign to be run through his Why Not You Foundation.
Wilson is my favorite type of professional athlete: one who stays humble and never stops working to fulfill his potential, regardless of obstacles and set-backs. He lives by a slogan often repeated on his Twitter account: “No time for sleep.”
We who were fortunate enough to watch Russell Wilson play his final year of college football as a Wisconsin Badger knew at the time that he was a phenomenon.
Too bad he’s too short to play quarterback.
Quote for Today
It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. – Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)