Russellmania

Starbucks. The Space Needle. Ken Griffey Jr. Russell Wilson. Yes, the Seahawks' second-year QB is already rising to that level of fame and adoration in Seattle. Winning early and often helps, of course, but it runs deeper than that. We tried to learn more about the love affair

By
Jenny Vrentas
· More from Jenny·
(Elaine Thompson/AP)
(Elaine Thompson/AP)

SEATTLE — The NFC Championship Game wasn’t too big for Russell Wilson until, maybe, after it was over.

The Seahawks quarterback put on the winners’ hat and T-shirt, and embraced his coach, Pete Carroll, near the 40-yard line of CenturyLink Field. Then, for an instant at least, he looked overwhelmed.

Wilson had helped make this, around him, happen: The blasts of green and blue confetti. The 60-some thousand fans still in their seats, roaring. A 23-17 victory against rival San Francisco to book a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII. He may have needed a moment to himself, but first he needed to complete this moment for Seattle. So he hopped up on the midfield platform, and he took his turn with the microphone.

“I thank God for putting me in this place right here.” Wilson said. “This place is unbelievable. I love Seattle.”

The feeling, to say the least, is mutual. This star-crossed sports city had been waiting for a player like him to rally around, but this has all happened so fast: Just 17 months after Wilson became Seattle’s starting quarterback, he can have a free meal from one end of the city to the other, as one local put it, and inspires the kind of affinity last seen for a certain superstar slugger.

“He’s one that’s struck a chord in me. I’m searching for words for it, personally.”

There’s more to the Seahawks’ Super Bowl berth than Wilson, of course. They leaned on their top-ranked defense to advance over the Niners, the conference crown resting upon the left hand of All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who tipped away Colin Kaepernick’s final pass in the end zone for an interception.

But it was Wilson who pulled off the pivotal 4th-and-7 play earlier in the fourth quarter that may have decided their season, each step more gutsy than the last: 1) He lobbied Carroll to go for it on the sideline; 2) he drew San Francisco offside with a double count before the snap; and 3) he used the free play to fire a pass up the seam to Jermaine Kearse for the go-ahead 35-yard touchdown.

It wasn’t so long ago—the start of the 2012 preseason—when fans couldn’t even find Wilson jerseys to purchase. Sunday, legions reported for their 12th Man duties in Wilson’s No. 3, expecting another milestone in his young career.

“I’ve heard people compare him to Ken Griffey, Jr.,” said Melanie Lockhart, a Seattle area resident who’s been wearing Wilson’s jersey since Christmas 2012. “He’s as close as any athlete we’ve had since. He’s building that kind of legacy.”

Sebastian Navarro, 17, and Kole Bradley-Kuk, 16. "You can see a million Russell Wilson jerseys," Bradley-Kuk said outside CenturyLink. "I think one day he will be just as big, if not bigger, than Ken Griffey, Jr." (Jenny Vrentas/SI)
Sebastian Navarro, 17, and Kole Bradley-Kuk, 16. “You can see a million Russell Wilson jerseys,” Bradley-Kuk said outside CenturyLink. “I think one day he will be just as big, if not bigger, than Ken Griffey, Jr.” (Jenny Vrentas/SI)

Wilson told a charming story Sunday night, about how he felt a connection to Seattle even before the 425 Renton, Wash., area code appeared on his phone during the third round of the 2012 Draft. Wilson, eager to find out the next stop of his football career after N.C. State and Wisconsin, had put the names of all 32 NFL teams in a hat before the draft began. The slip he pulled out? The Seattle Seahawks.

But Seattle’s return affection was more of a wild card. Wilson arrived as a third-round pick, with a veteran, Matt Flynn, recently signed to starter’s compensation. He more than exceeded expectations, “he’s brought the city alive,” said Seattle native Joel Roswall. “We were in the doldrums before.”

Wilson has the player profile—a young upstart playing the new-guard style of quarterback—well-suited to a city in part driven by new-economy tech companies. He started to earn respect off the field even before he did on it, with his weekly Tuesday visits to the Seattle Children’s Hospital. Though it’s common for quarterbacks of winning teams—the Seahawks are 24-8 the past two seasons—to be well-liked, fans invoking Griffey, Jr., comparisons is more than that. “He’s one that’s struck a chord in me,” says Nathan Knopf, another Wilson jersey-wearer and Seattle native. “I’m searching for words for it, personally.”

Perhaps the city’s vexing sports history helps explain. A major professional sports team in Seattle hasn’t won a championship since 1979, and that team was the SuperSonics, who broke hearts when they fled town six years ago. Locals describe the feeling of always bracing for a letdown from their sports teams. The 2013 Seahawks, at least until this point, haven’t disappointed—along with the Broncos, they’re a rare preseason favorite and No. 1 playoff seed to end up in the Super Bowl.

Steve Merz, 31, from Arlington, Wash., wore a camo No. 3 jersey with his rainproof hunting pants. "Obviously, if we win a Super Bowl, his legacy supplants anyone else's," Merz said. "Bringing the first Super Bowl (title) to Seattle would be huge." (Jenny Vrentas/SI)
Steve Merz, 31, from Arlington, Wash., wore a camo No. 3 jersey with his rainproof hunting pants. “Obviously, if we win a Super Bowl, his legacy supplants anyone else’s,” Merz said. “Bringing the first Super Bowl (title) to Seattle would be huge.” (Jenny Vrentas/SI)

Wilson learned from past letdowns; notably, last year’s divisional round playoff loss at Atlanta. He’s wired to be resilient—he suggested that’s a holdover from his baseball playing days, when he had to focus on one pitch at a time. After Wilson lost a fumble on his first play Sunday, giving the 49ers a free field goal, fullback Michael Robinson spotted Wilson smiling on the sideline, already moving on.

Wilson often plays beyond his 25 years, but his relative inexperience still peeks through. His mobility can be an asset, but at times he had happy feet during Sunday’s game, quickly escaping the pocket when there may have been opportunities to step up and make a throw. His Super Bowl opponent, four-time MVP Peyton Manning, is a guy he’s trying to imitate. “I want to be like him one day,” Wilson says. “His mind is so strong, all the things he does at the line of scrimmage and all that—that’s where I’m trying to get one day.”

But Wilson’s career is already on the fast track. One fan—18-year-old Rohan Sehgal of Bellevue—says he’ll buy Seahawks season tickets next season because he wants to see Wilson play for years to come. Sunday night, Wilson became the first quarterback of the much-touted 2012 draft class to make it to the Super Bowl.

Wilson tried to absorb what was happening. During the game’s final 22 seconds, when he performed three kneel-downs to run out the clock, he thought about his decision to play pro football instead of baseball, and the people in his past who’d told him he’d never make it here. The scene afterward was pure chaos.

Because a cameo by a hip-hop artist only adds to the entertainment value of a major victory, Seattle’s own Macklemore—the halftime performer—lingered in the locker room. He announced he’d be postponing a trip to India to attend the Super Bowl in New Jersey, and then he snapped a photo with Wilson—two young stars, faces of the Emerald City, smiling into the camera.

A member of Macklemore’s entourage, blingy grill firmly in mouth, nodded approvingly. “Big Russ, making it happen,” he said to no one in particular.

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27 comments
Arzu
Arzu

THANK YOU for an article about someone besides Richard Sherman!  I love #25 & all, and his tip saved the game, but Wilson and the TEAM got us there! 

ptoconn
ptoconn

The only prob with Wilson is all the God rhetoric. God does not exist, except in your heart. So please, for "God's" sake, stop the delusional nonsense. Am I being serious? Yes. And I seriously love me some last name Wilson.

pirate
pirate

From the first, there was that boyish enthusiasm that just caught you and made you think he was something special. And he hasn't lost it after two amazing (for Seattle) years. I mean really, ending every interview, practically ever sentence, with "Go 'Hawks!"? It's practically a cliche, but somehow with him it just fits. It's just who he is, and everyone loves him for it.

Mech
Mech

We don't expect our athletes to be perfect, just human, and Wilson has a lot of that. He is that guy that keeps coming at you even when you slap him down ten times, he always knows what to say and he and his wife have connected with another Seattle heart - the Children's Hospital where he got a wallet he was genuinely pleased to get and showed it off to all of us. The kid inside him has endeared him to us. He may not be a great all time QB but he will still be big here no matter what.

ChrisLund
ChrisLund

He visited last week my friend's daughter who is battling cancer at Seattle Children's hospital. 

It made her so happy, as I'm sure it has with other kids there. Athletes do lots of great stuff off the field… and in the case of Wilson, he embodies the quiet demeanor Seattle is known for.

Sure, the city will back Sherman forever… but yea, RW is Seattle through and through!

richhorn
richhorn

Starbucks? Not really a "beloved Seattle institution" after Howard Shultz sold the Sonics to Clay Bennett so he could move them to OKC.

RitaNorquist
RitaNorquist

There is something so special about Russell, as a person first and as an incredible athlete. He is so poised and we have come to know that he is the same on or off the field. He is God & Family first and shares it with us everyday. We know he would never do anything to embarrass us or himself. He is so TRUE. Believe what you see, that is our Russell & we love him with all of our hearts.

hwkr15
hwkr15

Russell Wilson's head coach at Wisconsin Bret Bielema: "I know he's going to be an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, but he also might be the president of the United States. And I don't think that's an exaggeration. The kid has something that you cannot buy, you cannot bottle."


How often does a coach talk about a player like that? Yeah he's exciting as hell to watch, but the fact that he's such a good guy on and off the field is what really makes him special. He's one of those people who you just know would be successful no matter what career path he had chosen.

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

@Arzu What position did he play on defense. I don't remember seeing him on the field a whole lot.

Arzu
Arzu

@ptoconn I'm no Christian, but you have ZERO right to preach to Russell Wilson.  You don't like his comments?  Find another QB

ScottF2
ScottF2

@ptoconn Did you truly just bring this up on a sports site?  Atheism.com must be jammed up huh?

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

@ptoconn  That "love me some" phrase is getting tiresome.


Wilson is a God guy but he doesn't over do it like that other failed QB did.

jhamler1
jhamler1

@Arzu @ptoconn Yup, I truly brought it up. Because between all the football hype and X;s and O's we gotta deal with for the next two weeks, well... I thought it might be fun if we extrapolated the process to include existentialism. Especially seeing as none of us fans are actually participating in the Super Bowl.


Besides,I wasn't preaching to anybody. Only preachers do that. I was just stating an opinion. I think even Jesus Himself would allow me that much freedom of speech. If Sherman can talk Clubber Lang language about Crabtree, why can't I talk about Russell Wilson's cosmic delusion?


It really doesn't matter all that much. You can deign to debate me, or you can just go about your merry way. Either way, we both exist.

jhamler1
jhamler1

@ScottF2 @ptoconn Trust me: I don't normally troll on behalf of atheists, but... I dunno. I live in Seattle and so I guess I'm just being silly. I only brought it up as a reflexive and left wing political reaction because that's what I do for a living. Oh, and because I'm a reflexive and left wing sports fan/writer, always looking to inject politics and ideology into the zeitgeist.


richhorn
richhorn

@Joe L Oh hell, no. I could not be more proud and impressed with Russell Wilson. It's not often that an athlete comes along who you can point to as a true role model - on and off the field of play. His is the first rookie's jersey I've ever bought, because I had no doubt he would do special things or at least be valliant in the attempt.

But "Stabucks" will always be a trigger for the true Seattle sports fan, at least until we get our NBA team back.

XeronTafford
XeronTafford

@Joe L@richhornYou have to realize what a pr1ck Schultz is.  We can never forgive him as he is the prime reason that the Sonics left town.  We will take any opportunity to slam him.


Oh, and Russell Wilson just wins ballgames.  It's incredible to watch.

pirate
pirate

@unitcaptain11@RobKnorr@JimKelly@ptoconn   And while the words "separation of church and state" don't appear in the constitution, they were first used by Thomas Jefferson, who was explaining to someone what the first amendment meant.

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

@RobKnorr@unitcaptain11@JimKelly@ptoconn 

The founding fathers created the Constitution to establish the laws of the land.  All federal employees including the President swear to uphold it.  The Constitution states that there shall be no one state religion and no religious test for office.  The founders clearly wanted to keep religion and government apart.

You can say all rights come from God is you want, but this is a nation of laws, and the Constitution is the foundation of our laws.

RobKnorr
RobKnorr

@unitcaptain11 @JimKelly @ptoconn In truth you couldn't be more provably wrong.

It's NOT the government that gives you rights, as the founding fathers noted, governments can only respect the rights which "We are endowed by our creator with". You may not have read the Bill of rights, but that quote is from that document, and it clearly spells it out for you, in writing, it is GOD who grants you freedoms and rights, not the government.


You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts, and when it is actually SPELLED OUT in our founding documents exactly what this country's freedoms are based on, then you have no wiggle room to argue.

unitcaptain11
unitcaptain11

@JimKelly@ptoconn@unitcaptain11  

Freedom of speech is not based on the Bible.  The founding fathers saw how England and France and other countries had centuries of war over religion, so they founded a country not based on any one religion, for that reason.

JimKelly
JimKelly

@ptoconn@unitcaptain11 Don't worry, your only problems are that you're delusional and tiresome.


Of course, living in a country that has a piece of paper giving you freedom of speech, which was based on the Bible, is easy to forget, huh?

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