Quarterback Russell Wilson has led the Seattle Seahawks to a berth in the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos in just his second year in the NFL.
Wilson has confounded his critics from the beginning, though it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand why. Drafted by Seattle in the third round, he was apparently bypassed due to concerns about his 5’11” height.
Notwithstanding his solid years at North Carolina State and exceptional performance at Wisconsin in a senior year where he completed in excess of 70% of his passes, Wilson was thought to be a risky proposition in a league that supposedly values accuracy from quarterback above all else. Many draft “experts” openly derided the choice.
His leadership skills were evident in college. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Wilson’s collegiate saga is not the fact that then North Carolina State head coach Tom O’Brien was seemingly anxious to move Wilson out of Raleigh, but that he was elected captain by his Wisconsin teammates despite having only been in the program and the university for a couple of months before his only season in Madison.
Even the Seahawks seemed to have had doubts about Wilson’s ability to come in and assume the quarterback position in his rookie year. Seattle spent millions to sign Matt Flynn, the hot free-agent quarterback in the 2012 off-season. Wilson beat out Flynn in camp and started for Seattle from the first game of the 2012 season. Seattle advanced to the division round of the NFC playoffs as a wildcard in 2012 and this season captured the number one overall seed in the NFC on their way to the Super Bowl. Usually, when football fans and the talking heads in the media evaluate quarterbacks, they say that it is all about “the wins”, especially in the playoffs. However, it seems that Wilson cannot get the adulation for wins that other quarterbacks have gotten the past with less than stellar statistics.
Compare the hype in many quarters of the media and NFL fandom heaped on Tim “All He does is Win” Tebow after racking up the grand total of one playoff win as opposed to the damning-with-faint praise grudgingly given Wilson. Tebow’s pedestrian numbers didn’t matter, of course, because he “won”. When talking about Wilson, it seems to be par for the course to mention that he has a great running back in Marshawn Lynch and a fantastic defense on the other side of the ball. Both of these assertions are true, but they in no way take away from the accomplishments and skill of the Seahawks signal caller. Bart Starr, Joe Montana, and Troy Aikman all played with some pretty good weapons at their disposal on offense and solid defenses rounding out their teams. It’s why they won championships. Having a good running game, great wideouts, and/or a great defense doesn’t diminish the quarterback.
At this point there is a good chance you might be thinking this writer has completely lost it. While that is always a distinct possibility, the point isn’t to assert that Wilson has already, or necessarily will, join those names above and the other great quarterbacks in the penthouse of legendary elites. However, it can be fairly said that Wilson is well on his way to writing that type of resume. Are you serious, you might ask? Absolutely. Let’s take a look at the numbers. Wilson is the first quarterback in the modern era to have a rating of 100 or better in each of his initial two seasons. His 52 total touchdown passes in his first two seasons tie him with Manning for second on the all-time list behind only the quintessential passer Dan Marino. The wins, as mentioned above, speak for themselves, but for those of you scoring at home, Wilson is 27-9 as a starting quarterback, including 3-1 in the playoffs. Yet, to many outside of Seahawks nation Wilson is nothing more than a “game manager”, a term used more often than not with derisive implications.
Why is this? Certainly, the fact that Wilson has played his two seasons at the same time as other wonderful quarterbacks who are his peers plays a large role. Fellow 2012 draftees Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck were both much more hyped coming out of college and Luck certainly was in this season as well. Additionally, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick are young quarterbacks who have certainly made their own indelible mark(s) in the NFL, with Newton sharing the benefit of being a Heisman Trophy winner with Griffin and Kaepernick having taken his team to the Super Bowl last season. You can add the fact that future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees have done nothing in the past two seasons to show they deserve any less of the adulation than they already get.
But, nothing that confers earned praise on Wilson should be construed as taking away from any of the established quarterback superstars or the younger ones who seem poised to assume the mantle of greatness in the next NFL generation. This Super Bowl will, of course, be a matchup of the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. However, in the minds of those fans that see things through a certain prism, it will be Peyton Manning versus Russell Wilson. In the buildup and hype for this game, you will inevitably hear the experts talking about how the Seattle running game is the real driving force behind their offense, and Wilson will have to be a game manager and not turn the football over. All this is definitely true, in the same vein that any quarterback going into any NFL game cannot afford to turn the football over and needs to manage the offense well.
However, a Seattle victory will only come with Wilson doing what he has done throughout his first two seasons: making good decisions, taking care of the football, using his legs to create throwing lanes and keep drives alive, and making precise throws downfield when needed. He did just this in the NFC championship win over the 49ers. If Wilson accomplishes this in the Super Bowl, will he get the unqualified admiration and adulation from the majority of NFL fans and the media that he will have earned? That’s questionable as it’s hard to imagine what he would need to do – that he hasn’t already done – to be glorified nearly as much as some of his peers.
One thing is certain, Russell Wilson absolutely needs a victory in the Super Bowl to persuade many of his critics to even consider that he is actually as good as the numbers and results have already told us that he is.