JERSEY CITY, N.J. — The captain was a few minutes late, though no one seemed to mind.
Russell Wilson is usually worth the wait, and no more so than on this day, his final one speaking about the game before he actually plays The Game.
Peyton Manning is supposed to be the star of this Super Bowl, but a minor league second baseman who refused to listen to those who said he was too small to play quarterback in the NFL might have something to say about that.
Proving people wrong is almost as fun for Wilson as winning football games, and he’s done both with great regularity since being drafted with the 75th overall pick two years ago by the Seattle Seahawks.
“For all the kids that have been told, no, that they can’t do it, or all the kids that will be told no,” Wilson said. “That’s one of the reasons that I left playing baseball, to be honest with you. I had this urge to play the game of football, because so many people – I shouldn’t say so many, a handful of people – said I couldn’t do it.
Richard Sherman will be the player most remembered from the win that got Seattle here. But if not for a gutsy play on an equally gutsy call, the Seahawks would not be in position to win their first Super Bowl title. Wilson found Jermaine Kearse in the end zone for the touchdown on a fourth down against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game, giving the Seahawks the lead for the first time.
It was the kind of play a veteran star like Manning might make when it counts most. The kind of play Wilson prepared for meticulously every day for the past two years.
The kind of play that can win a Super Bowl.
“I don’t think I’ve seen too many people have the knack to want be great. He wants to be a great quarterback,” receiver Percy Harvin said. “He just doesn’t want to be average or All-Pro. He wants to be talked about as a great quarterback and I don’t think he’s going to stop until he does.”
By now, Wilson’s story is fairly well known. The son of the late Harrison Wilson III – a star athlete at Dartmouth who became a lawyer after briefly thinking of trying out for the NFL in 1977 – he lost a job as starting quarterback at North Carolina State while playing second base in the Colorado Rockies organization.
Wilson would give up baseball to star as a graduate student at Wisconsin, leading the Badgers to the Big 10 title and a spot in the Rose Bowl. But he was undersized at 5-foot-11 and languished in the NFL Draft before Pete Carroll and the Seahawks took a chance on him for what was expected to be a backup quarterback position.
Instead, Carroll called him to the basketball court at the team’s complex prior to his rookie season, where Wilson watched him shoot jumpers.
“I go outside and he said, ‘You want to shoot?’” Wilson said. “Then he said, ‘We want you to know you’re going to be the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, hopefully for a long time.’
“That put a huge smile on my face. I immediately thought of my mom and dad and all the things they’ve done for me and all the discipline they gave me.”
That discipline is evident in the way Wilson approaches his job as both the quarterback and leader of his team. Like all quarterbacks he watches film, but Wilson is constantly studying situations and is relentless about fixing mistakes.
“He makes everyone around him almost a perfectionist because we pick up off that and the habits that he has,” said receiver Ricardo Lockette. “He is always the first one there in the morning and the last one to leave.”
Those habits helped propel the Seahawks to an 11-5 record last season behind their rookie QB. They beat the Washington Redskins in the first round of the playoffs, then lost a shootout to Atlanta that had Wilson down in the dumps – if only for a moment.
By the time he was in the tunnel going back to the locker room he had already begun thinking what he had to do in the off-season to get the Seahawks over the hump this year.
“I want to change the game and there’s a difference between being good and being great and changing the game,” Wilson said. “Guys like Peyton Manning change the game in terms of the way he thinks and in terms of the way he processes things. Tom Brady is the same way, he’s so clutch that people fear him. One day I want to evolve to that.”
Wilson can take a big step in that direction should he join an elite group of quarterbacks (Brady, Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger) who have won a Super Bowl in just their second year. He’s certainly not overwhelmed by the moment, and seems to embrace the challenge, even when it comes to answering the same questions over and over during the pregame buildup.
A great believer in visualization, he already sees himself on the field at the Meadowlands, is already trying to figure out how to feel when the national anthem is sung and the stadium erupts in flashes for the kickoff.
“Then it will be, OK, I’m ready to go,” Wilson said.
If he is, there might be more than one quarterback star in this Super Bowl.