With Peyton Manning playing the part of guru, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has his sights set on the mountaintop — on the field and off
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 30, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 9:41 a.m. HST, Jan 30, 2014
JERSEY CITY, N.J. >> At this point, they share pursuit of precision. Little else.
The differences between Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson are expansive. Height, experience, style, upbringing.
Their position of focus, quarterback, has them intertwined days before the Super Bowl. Multiple comparisons and shallow thinking help push out a Manning vs. Wilson storyline.
That, of course, is silly. They are not direct foes at Super Bowl XLVIII. What one does will have little influence on the other.
The thing that does exist this week for Wilson is a direct glimpse at the top of the mountain. In his second season, he’s just beginning to climb. With his second organization, Manning again is the league’s best. The master craftsman of quarterbacking that Wilson wants to become will be standing across the field from him Sunday.
Manning’s role as pristine American pitchman is also one Wilson is pursuing. Wilson is a willing but, in comparison to Manning, unknown understudy. Much like their football totals, Manning’s brand is much larger while Wilson begins to sprinkle his around the country.
National car commercials for Manning; local car dealerships for Wilson. Manning has hosted “Saturday Night Live” and been comical in commercials for Visa. Wilson’s biggest exposure came from a Levi’s commercial.
After Sunday, one will have confetti-covered shoulders and possibly a trip to Disneyland booked. The other will sit in a locker room in MetLife Stadium beneath and away from cheers.
In just his second season, Wilson could tie Manning in Super Bowl wins with one. In his 15th season, Manning could claim his second. If the Lombardi Trophy ends up in Manning’s 37-year-old hands, lofted by his right arm that has thrown for almost 65,000 yards, a label of the best of all-time will be affixed to him.
If Wilson’s face is reflected in the silver trophy, he’ll have beaten Manning to that stage by seven seasons, settling in as the next big thing.
The older guy with the white curly hair looks more like a hanging-on team manager than a quarterbacks guru. Carl Smith, known in the organization as “Tater,” began coaching as a graduate assistant at Cal Poly in 1971. He’s worked for the New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and now, the Seahawks, where he is the quarterbacks coach. He entered the NFL in 1986.
In the quarterbacks room, he at time serves as Wilson’s governor.
Wilson’s desperation to seek out detailed information is ongoing.
Smith has to yank him back.
If Wilson was putting together an outfit the way he worried about quarterbacking, he wouldn’t just try to match the shoes and belt. He’d worry where the thread for the pants came from, who was handling it and why it was made the way it was. He’s so particular, Wilson once talked to fullback Michael Robinson about the type of cleats he wore because Wilson was concerned his shoes were tipping the defense.
When he gets like this during preparation, Smith slows him down.
“We’ve got to put the brakes on every once in a while,” Smith said. “ ’Yeah, we’ll get to that later.’ And, he’s good at that. He’s good at slowing down. ’OK, we’re going to let that go right now. We’re going to stick on this.’ He tries to fill it up. We know the game is Sunday, there is a time to slow it down to this right here, these are the plays, these are our decisions, going with that and we’re wrapped into that with this ballgame.”
Wilson showed up early at the Seahawks practice facility after a dismal Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals late in the season. He was just 11-for-27 against Arizona, which truncated his usual sleep from roughly six hours to about four because of a 4:30 a.m. arrival in Renton.
At the practice facility, he watched more film. Talked about the plays with head coach Pete Carroll. Grinded more. Eventually, the sun rose.
Manning does the same, though he has mastered quarterbacking nuance unlike anyone else in the league. There’s no cliche of Manning being an extension of the offensive coordinator, because he essentially is the offensive coordinator.
“One of a kind,” Smith said. “I haven’t seen anybody do it the way that he does. Pretty easy to say after he beat all the records.
“He has his own style of calling a play, changing a play, having three plays in his mind and having the control,” Smith said.
Manning’s management of the line of scrimmage is where he and Wilson start to diverge. Manning has more options and understanding, in large part because of such an experience advantage.
After the snap, they move farther apart because Manning’s movement tops out at toe taps. Wilson’s often involves repeated circling.
Manning is fire hydrant mobile. Wilson creates throwing lanes and opportunity with his legs. In the time it takes Wilson to veer and dissect, Manning could release three passes. That’s not a knock on Wilson, just an example of how they different they are, at this point.
Wilson is intent on the closing the gap. During the flight from Seattle to New Jersey, Wilson watched three hours of film. His pursuit of perfection is insatiable. It’s the thing he has most in common with Manning.
“Who knows where Russell’s going because he wants to know it all,”
Smith said. “He wants to know what everybody knows and wants to use it. And he’s not waiting year-to-year, that’s day-to-day. He might hear something today that he wants to put in this afternoon.”
At 37, with his spine fused, bank account swollen and recognition spread countrywide, Manning is the pinnacle of NFL fame. Thousands of shutters snapped when he took three strides in a tailored tan suit to step up to the microphone for the first time after landing in New Jersey. He was aboard a docked mid-size cruise ship on the Hudson River, standing at the lightly swaying podium in the ships’ gaudy ballroom.
All his answers were steady. He didn’t stumble. He laughed. He was prominent, yet relatable. Senatorial, really.
This is something Wilson — whom, like most players, has his own marketing team and is briefed by Seahawks media relations staffers prior to each press conference — has noticed.
“You have to look at one of the best football players to ever play the game as an example in all facets of life,” Wilson said. “Obviously on the field, but also all the advertisements, he’s just so consistent with his approach. He wants to do everything right, his brand is great. So you want to be like that.”
Wilson recently signed a deal with Alaska Airlines. He has an app through American Family Insurance (based in Madison, Wis., where Wilson went to school for a year. His wife also previously worked for the company’s marketing department). The app allows users to “Ask Russell” about himself.
According to the Chicago Business Journal, Wilson filmed two commercials with the company in San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium in November during the bye week. One was called “Dreams Deferred,” in case the Seahawks did not reach the Super Bowl. Instead, viewers in certain markets — American Family did not make a national buy — will see “Dreams Realized” during the game.
It’s an incremental step for Wilson toward becoming the branding behemoth Manning is.
Wilson is envisioning the Super Bowl. This isn’t an ad. It’s more of a routine.
“I’m big into visualizing and this moment right here is exactly what I visualized,” Wilson said. “Being here in this moment is one of those things I truly believed going into the year, after we played the preseason game against the Denver Broncos that we may play them.
“Ironically, we’re playing against the Denver Broncos.”
After Sunday, Manning will begin to figure out what’s next for him.
Three years remain on his contract with Denver and Manning says he feels better at this point of the season than he thought he would.
As for his legacy?
“I’ve been asked about my legacy since I was 25 years old, which I’m not sure you can have a legacy when you are 25 years old, or even 37,” Manning said.
“I thought you had to be 70 to have a legacy. I’m not 100 percent sure what the word even means. I’m down the homestretch of my career, but I’m still in it. It’s not over yet.”
That’s the answer of the sure man. The one who has won, set records, mastered the art of calling bull on a query without the questioner even realizing it at the time.
Wilson, 25, is starting to receive the same treatment. He was asked about his legacy this week.
“I think that for my legacy, I take one day at a time,” Wilson said.
“Hopefully I play for 20 years. Hopefully I can look back and say, ’Man, that was a great career.’ ”
That’s the answer of a still cautious and developing brand manager.
Thinking back, it dawns on Smith, the Seahawks coach, that Manning isn’t the only “one of a kind” he’s aware of. He believes Wilson is a singular talent, too. That’s why he’s not hesitant to say what he thinks the next step for Wilson is.
“To win the Super Bowl,” Smith said.
That would give Wilson a second thing in common with Manning.