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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Sports Thread #1 For 2/5/13: Just Too Successful For Old Narratives


Too short, too small, just not big enough, and maybe too black to succeed.

Those are words Russell Wilson has repeatedly been told to digest or infer in his mission to be an elite high school, college, and NFL quarterback. He could have easily been an apoplectic individual in his football life after all the criticism and doubts he has taken throughout his 25 years, hell bent on proving people wrong like his friend and growing rival Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers chooses to do.

Yet Wilson does not play with a visible "chip on his shoulder" or an intense drive that is constantly in everyone's peripheral. Instead, it's a serene and precocious determination within him that led to him defeating many negative stereotypes last night to help give the Seattle Seahawks their first Super Bowl title in their franchise's 38 year history.

It's a placid mentality that has allowed Wilson to become only the second black quarterback to ever win the NFL's biggest game. With the long running, racially ugly stereotype that black men couldn't play football's most glamorous position at the NFL level, Wilson's victory certainly is one for the many black quarterbacks who were denied their opportunities to play professionally in America throughout the 60's all the way to even the 2000s.

And unlike how the Washington Redskins treated the first black quarterback to win an NFL title in Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams (ironically defeating the Broncos and their current GM John Elway), Wilson will not have to worry about losing his job.

The Richmond, Virginia native also became the first quarterback under six feet to win a Super Bowl, showing that you don't have to be a giant to be able to see and run effectively against massive 300 pound linemen.

Wilson also helped break the notion that a "duel threat quarterback" could never lead a team to a championship, another racially challenged stereotype associated with black quarterbacks to label them not as good for the position as their white counterparts. Traditional dropback quarterbacks like Manning, or Tom Brady, have always been thought of by the NFL power establishment as being the only type of signal callers that would be successful. But Wilson, with the pocket presence of those quarterbacks to go along with the dynamic athleticism of a Michael Vick or Randall Cunningham of years gone by, proudly smashed that absurd narrative as well.

Although Wilson was garnering his own headlines coming into Super Bowl XLVIII, it was far from what his opposing quarterback Peyton Manning and his teammates Richard Sherman had received. But it was something that would not have made Wilson a vengeful, sulky figure in the buildup towards the game and inside the game itself. Because the 5'11 25 year old QB was already familiar to being snubbed and dealing with disrespect better than Rodney Dangerfield could ever imagine.

Despite a stellar high school career that featured back to back all-state years, Wilson's sub six feet size lead to many big football schools overlooking him, also citing his loyalty to baseball factoring in their decisions to overlook him since he was also drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2007 MLB Draft.

He was listed as just a 2 out of 5 star recruit, as he only received three scholarship offers from Division 1-A schools. AFter choosing North Carolina State and being an all conference quarterback in his first three years at NC State, Wilson was not given the chance to keep his job for his senior season by head coach Tom O'Brien due to still being dedicated to baseball as well.

That snub prompted Wilson to use his final year of NCAA eligibility and transfer to Wisconsin in 2011, where he had another stellar season to round off his collegiate career. He displayed his usual excellent pocket presence, strong arm, and great poise to become an all-American quarterback that season. But when it came time to get drafted to the NFL, Wilson heard the usual doubts and skepticism he was long accustomed to.

Too short, too small, just not big enough, and maybe, just a little too black.

2000 Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL quarterback Chris Weinke said of Wilson, "If he was 6'5', he'd probably be the No.1 pick in the draft."

But he wasn't that height. And while much hyped quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were the first two picks of the 2012 NFL Draft, Wilson was selected all the way in the third round as the 75th pick by Seattle.

He could have easily been devastated by that and played with uncontrolled rage, but that was and is not the mentality of Russell Wilson. And it was something that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll noticed when drafting and making him the team's starting quarterback over highly paid free agent Matt Flynn, a risky decision that could have cost Carroll his job if Wilson had a terrible rookie campaign.

Instead, Wilson showed last night how Carroll and Seattle GM John Schneider were so right to turn the keys over to their young prodigy. His duel threat talent and terrific sagacity of not making costly mistakes were at its optimum best last night. In an evening where a second year quarterback went against arguably the greatest ever to play the position, it was Wilson who looked like the veteran at 25 while Manning, with the Seahawks' outstanding defensive unit assisting in his forgettable evening, resembled a player requiring more years of experience despite his remarkable career at age 37.

It's quite fitting that Wilson did this against Manning, considering that he makes just a percentage of Manning's salary (only $526,217 per year compared to Manning's whopping $18 million) and was counseled by Manning back in 2004 at the future Hall of Fame quarterback's passing academy. The eldest of the two famous quarterbacking brothers barely remembers that initial meeting since he has counseled many kids throughout the years at those camps, but he certainly will have a hard time erasing the evening he had last night.

But the consistently humble Wilson will not rest on the laurels of his greatness night, determined to make sure his first two years in the NFL are not a fluke.

It's a passion and positive drive that was instilled in him by his late father, Harrison, who passed in 2010.

"He had the best seat in the house last night," he reiterated on Good Morning America this morning. "I remember driving in the car with him so many times and him saying, "Russ, why not you, why can't you be the Super Bowl winning quarterback and do great things with that. You have all the ability, why not you?"

"So that's what I told my team at the beginning of the year? Why not us? Let's go do it, and sure enough, we did."

Not too short, not too small, and not too black to be a Super Bowl champion quarterback. Russell Wilson is too positive to let old stereotypes and distractions rattle him.
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