With Peyton Manning and Tom Brady nearing the end of their storied careers, the NFL had been craving for someone like Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to be one of the new faces of the league.
And when the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl over Manning’s Denver Broncos this year, the NFL lucked out, because the quarterback who uncannily does the right things on and off the field was launched into the national limelight from the quiet hinterlands of Seattle, Washington, where the national sports media and the mainstream media machine often do not tread.
After the Super Bowl, in late-night interviews, sit downs at Charlie Rose’s famous table (see video below) and even in Spring Training with the Texas Rangers, Wilson, the second-year signal caller out of Wisconsin, has displayed why he is an ambassador the league could not have created any better if they had tried.
When Wilson was drafted, Breitbart Sports’ Tony Lee said that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll would start him just like he did Matt Barkley over Aaron Corp when Barkley was a true freshman out of Mater Dei High School. Carroll did exactly that, showing the boldness that has made Carroll great like Wilson’s relentless pursuit of excellence has made him succeed at the highest of levels. Wilson has thrived despite being told that he could not because of he lacked the size and the conventional “measurables” that “measure” everything but heart, leadership, and the intangibles that separate great players from those who merely have “potential.”
In his interview with Charlie Rose last week, Wilson, who hails from Richmond, Virginia, discussed how much his late father meant to him and how he is moved when he inspires kids. Unlike other athletes who run away from being role models, Wilson embraces that label. He spoke at length about trying to be a positive role model and wanting to even own a team of his own down the line. He spoke about his preparation, being told that he was the starting quarterback by Pete Carroll while shooting hoops before the third pre-season game in his rookie year, the joy of leading his teammates, and overcoming stereotypes about being too small to play quarterback. He spoke about his upbringing and faith, about how his late father always told him to remember that “there’s a King in every crowd.”
Wilson has always been a leader. When he arrived in Wisconsin after having played minor league baseball (his father finally saw him get drafted before he passed away), he was named the team’s captain after meeting the team for just the first time. That’s unheard of. He’s always been cool under pressure — when his late father, a graduate of Dartmouth, passed out in the car because of a diabetes episode on the freeway while driving him to a baseball game, a 13-year-old Wilson took control of the car, successfully drove off the highway and got his dad life-saving medical attention.
When Wilson, who has had dreams of playing baseball and football, went to the Rangers Spring Training camp for a day, those in the baseball world said the same things about him on the diamond that people have said about him on the gridiron.
As CBS Sports reported:
Wilson is smart, all right, but the biggest reason he’s here to is to bring a message of how far attitude and work ethic can take a person. As a baseball player, his makeup was “off the charts,” said Joe Mikulik, who managed him at with the Rockies’ Single A club in Asheville, NC, and is now managing in the Rangers’ system.
“You’re too smart to be a position player,” Greg Maddux told him, according to a CBS Sports report.
Even when he initially struggled in the minors with the Colorado Rockies, “everyone involved now believed he would have found a way to the big leagues. Somehow, some way”:
Wilson is recalled by scouts as someone who was an extraordinary person and leader, a great athlete (big surprise there, huh?), someone with good but not blazing speed (“he wasn’t a burner,” one scout said), a decent arm but not stellar (baseball throws are different than football, but while one scout said his arm was “nothing special,” another called it “solid to average-plus”) and a bat that needed developing.
In 315 minor-league at-bats, Wilson had five home runs but 118 strikeouts, not shocking considering his short baseball résumé. Beyond all that time spent honing his football ability, the right-handed hitter only played against lefty pitchers his final season playing at North Carolina State. One scout recalled that he needed work with pitch recognition, no surprise since most of his days were spent throwing a football and learning to run an offense, first at North Carolina State then at Wisconsin.
“He had a chance, but it was going to take a lot of at-bats, maybe 1,500 to 2,000 at-bats,” one scout said. “Ultimately, he didn’t have the time.”
Given more time, many have little doubt he would have made it. He could play all over the diamond, and his desire would have carried him to the bigs, many believe.
“He would have found a way,” Mikulik said. “The last two, three weeks, he was showing more quality at-bats, driving the ball into gaps, cutting down on strikeouts to the point where you would say, ‘OK man, he’s getting it.'”
If Wilson wanted to pursue baseball one day, “no one here daring to bet against it” because of his relentless desire to be the best:
Rockies executive Bill Geivett recalled Wilson coming at 11 a.m. before night games to work on his bunting.
Players like Wilson are few and far between. Andrew Luck could be such a face. In this draft, former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron seems to have that makeup, the special set of intangibles, and the desire to prove those who passed on him wrong that often separates the greats like Michael Jordan from the average players.
Rangers managers Ron Washington, who had been skeptical of Wilson’s appearance, came away impressed, calling Wilson “a champion” who has “something to offer to every walk of life”:
“It’s in him,” Washington said, according to the Seattle Times. “Baseball is definitely in him. He did excellent. He really did. He surprised me, for not being out on the baseball field for a while.”
Wilson arrived at Rangers camp even earlier than expected. On Sunday night, he attended and spoke for about 20 minutes at a team banquet for players, sponsors and suite holders in Scottsdale. It was a speech so good that team personnel were still raving the next morning. Then he came to the ballpark at 6:20 a.m. Monday, mingled with members of the Rangers organization and even participated in an early-morning session of defensive drills before the team’s practice.
“They can take something from his attitude,” Washington said. “Take something from his preparation. That guy around you, he draws attention. He’s such a personable guy, great character guy. He’s a champion. Twenty-five years old — he’s special.”
Wilson is the same way off the field as well.
When Wilson visited a girl battling a severe illness at a Seattle hospital, she gave him a wallet made out of duct tape. Wilson genuinely liked it, started using it, and showed it off and bragged about it at a press conference. In this age where the media is becoming more fragmented, it is easy to spot athletes who are phony and do gimmicky things because their agents or advisers tell them. This was not one of those moments, and it is that authenticity and good-heartedness in Wilson that has the NFL counting its blessings that he has now become a face and a spokesperson for the league. The NFL has had its share of public relations disasters, but in Wilson they have a classic and rare superstar that parents would feel comfortable asking their kids to emulate.