Maybe we bypass Russell Wilson because he doesn’t glide downfield like a winged, tat-smothered, action-combat hero, as one GQ cover subject does. Or maybe because he doesn’t have III tacked to his name while playing in the nation’s capital and believing he’s the greatest quarterback ever, as another GQ cover subject does. In the style magazine that still tries to define hotness, coolness and the male condition, Wilson had to settle this month for an inside pictorial modeling “the season’s best cable-knit sweaters.”
“I remember every single quarterback that was drafted before me,” he says in a video on a bluff overlooking Seattle, wearing a charcoal turtleneck number, if you must know. “I remember Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler were selected before me.”
All of which will be of little consequence when Wilson, the third-round draft pick who measures in at 5 feet 10 and 5/8ths, becomes the shortest quarterback to win a Super Bowl come February on a frozen tundra west of Manhattan. You may prefer Colin Kaepernick and his astounding abilities, which have Ron Jaworski giddily projecting him as potentially “one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.” You may like Robert Griffin III and his commanding leadership, his British-pub-dart accuracy. You may reject this millennial madness and opt for Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees — who, at 6 feet, is tied with Len Dawson and Joe Theismann as the shortest QBs to win Super Bowls — or you may go haywire and believe Chip Kelly will team with reborn-again Michael Vick for an NFL takeover. I’ll choose WIlson, the thinking man’s quarterback and meditative force on a Seattle team that does yoga, trains on a farm-to-table diet, appears to do its share of performance-enhancing drugs (though certainly not Wilson, I don’t think) and provides the best offensive-defensive balance in a league of too many lopsided teams.
Quarterbacks. Always a vigorous talking point in American sporting culture, they’ve now erupted into a breakout craze, specifically the dual-threat, read-option video gamers who hijacked the NFL last season and accelerated an ongoing revolution into the way football is played today. Dating back to Joe Namath in the ’60s, or even Biff BMOC in the ’50s, the quarterback always was in command and demand, always had the right hair and grooviest look and, of course, always got the girl. But now, after a lot of good-old-boy neanderthals finally got past their repulsive racial blockages and realized the best quarterbacks don’t necessarily have to be of a white dropback variety, we’re now witnessing the craft at its zenith.
Long the most important position in team sports, QB also has become the most magnetic and hotly debated. The top four are undeniable Hall of Famers and among the most prolific plateau-attainers in the sport’s history — Brady, Manning, Brees and Rodgers, pick your order of fondness — but that doesn’t mean any would rate ahead of Kaepernick, Griffin or Wilson on watchability lists. The old school is trying to fend off the new wave, and if it’s a familiar story line in life, it makes for compelling arguments as another NFL season launches.
Who gives me a guaranteed 400-yard, four-touchdown-pass performance? Rodgers, even as he’s besieged by criticism from former teammates Greg Jennings and Donald Driver and likely won’t win another Super Bowl.
Who gives me the winning drive? Manning, who should be about healed from his neck issues and will use a more potent arm to find Wes Welker in his deep receiving pool.
Who gives me pure passing stats if I was among the 50 million Americans who waste their lives on fantasy football? Brees, who produced 43 TD passes and 5,177 yards last year even without Sean Payton.
Who generates the most from the least? Brady, who is trying to win a Super Bowl for the first time in eight years with one receiver hobbled (Rob Gronkowski), another incarcerated (Aaron Hernandez) and another in Colorado (Welker), yet somehow will make do with whatever is placed around him.
Who could rise to newfound glory? Houston’s Matt Schaub, who has an open pathway to the Super Bowl in the navigable AFC if he stays upright, performs well in big games and has a healthy Arian Foster to run the ball all season.
Who could fall back to earth? Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, who now has the pressure of a $20.1-million salary and increased leadership responsibility with the departure of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed while losing two point threats in Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta.
Who’s most likely to be booed? Tony Romo, who should have been traded so he and the Cowboys possibly could find better fortunes without each other. Because he instead was handed an $18-million-a-year extension by the Mr. Magoo of NFL owners, Jerry Jones, Romo will need to win big games and stop amassing stats that don’t mean much at season’s end. If the demise of San Diego’s Philip Rivers already wasn’t underway, we’d also nominate him.
Who takes my breath away? Kaepernick, whose raw arm needs to be developed but whose think-on-the-fly instincts and all-conquering running style create a compelling, must-watch weekly narrative.
Who is making them somehow forget Manning? Andrew Luck, who already is maximizing receiving talent such as T.Y. Hilton, styling his own fourth-quarter comebacks and has made it easier for Colts fans to understand why owner Jim Irsay pulled the historic QB switcheroo.
Who scares me? Griffin, the most gifted of all, who will wear a brace on his twice-reconstructed right knee and is vulnerable to another crippling injury if he doesn’t bulk up his body and is exposed by Mike and Kyle Shanahan to too many direct hits in the read-option.
Once, not long ago, you might name 10 or 12 quarterbacks in a given season considered good, excellent or elite. Now, we can make the case for 20 in the above-average category — including the likes of Alex Smith, Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford and Cam Newton, assuming offensive coordinator Mike Shula doesn’t ruin him in Carolina. Know how deep the quarterback pool goes? I have Vick at No. 21 and Jay Cutler at No. 22. The only truly bad quarterbacks — assuming E.J. Manuel starts for Buffalo and not the Guy We’ve Never Heard Of, and assuming Terrell Pryor gets a long leash in Oakland — are Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert and whoever Rex Ryan trots out five minutes before kickoff.
Starting Sunday night of Week 2 in Seattle, in the first of two Seahawks-49ers matchups that now constitute the NFL’s best rivalry, it will be Wilson who proves most savvy and best equipped to win a Super Bowl. He certainly won’t compile the gaudiest passing numbers, though he did throw 29 scoring passes in the regular season and playoffs and rushed for almost 500 yards. And the Seahawks will have to survive three East Coast trips, the four-game suspension of pass-rusher Bruce Irvin and the hip injury that will keep new playmaker Percy Harvin shelved until late November. But this is an airtight team coached by Pete Carroll, who knows he’s sitting on history as the coach who flopped with the Jets and Patriots in his first NFL coaching gigs, went back to college and created a dynasty at USC, then raced off before the Reggie Bush scandal burned down the Coliseum to create an elite franchise in Seattle. Carroll had the gumption to bench Matt Flynn, despite signing him to a $26-million deal and $10-million bonus, and anoint WIlson as the rookie starter last year.
It may be remembered as one of those legendary, all-time decisions. For now, Wilson simply is trying to stay grounded, despite national attention that did include one magazine cover (ESPN). “I try not to pay attention to it,” he told Seahawks.com. “It’s a blessing, for sure, to be able to do the things I’ve been able to do in the past year. But at the same time, I’m just trying to focus on football as much as I can and stay limited to what I do (off the field). Obviously, my full focus is on football and how can we improve, how can I improve, how can our football team win week in and week out. That’s all it’s ever going to be for me. At the end of the day, the Lord’s blessed me with a lot of talent and a lot of blessings. And just to play the game of football is a tremendous honor.”
Colin Kaepernick wore sunglasses indoors at the ESPY awards. Robert Griffin III wants to run for office someday and branded his comeback as “Operation Patience,” complete with t-shirts for sale. Russell Wilson just feels blessed.
In his cable-knit sweater.
It’s the only thing boring about him.