Wilson finally faces his idol in Brees

RENTON, Wash. -- Russell Wilson is a little embarrassed to say so now, but the last time the New Orleans Saints played the Seattle Seahawks, Wilson just might have been wearing a Saints cap.

"I probably did," Wilson said, obviously wanting to downplay it.

That was three years ago, only 11 days after Wilson was the MVP in the Champs Sports Bowl after leading North Carolina State to a 23-7 victory over West Virginia.

It was long before Wilson had any idea he would become a Seahawk, but he had a good reason for wearing a Saints cap. The man Wilson idolizes, a man he wants to pattern himself after, on and off the field, is the starting quarterback for New Orleans -- Drew Brees.

"I followed him a lot," Wilson said. "I watched him in his college career [at Purdue] and I remember my dad being like, 'Man, you’ve got to watch this guy. This guy is awesome.'

"But I really started following him a lot and studying him my junior year of college, and also my senior year of college. When I went to Wisconsin [senior year], I had tons and tons of film on him. I just watched every throw, pretty much that he had thrown in the NFL. I studied his footwork, studied what he does, and obviously, everybody compares our height."

Brees is listed at 6-foot, which might be a slight exaggeration. Wilson is listed as 5-11, which also might just a touch optimistic.

It's part of the reason Wilson looked up to Brees, figuratively speaking, and thought: If he can do it, I can do it.

"But the thing I admire about him the most is his leadership," Wilson said of Brees. "It’s his attention to detail, his competitive nature. He's very clutch and he's very poised in big situations. You see that on TV. You see that when you meet him. That's when I really learned a lot about him."

Wilson will go head-to-head with his idol for the first time Monday night at CenturyLink Field, a game that could decide home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. But the first time Wilson and Brees met was the Pro Bowl last January.

"That was my first opportunity to be around him," Brees said. "I think he's an exceptional person. I saw him at the Super Bowl down here in New Orleans the week after that. We exchanged numbers and we've texted back and forth from time to time throughout the season, just checking on each other. I think very highly of him, not only as a player, but as a person."

Brees first learned about Wilson from Saints receiver Nick Toon, who was Wilson's teammate at Wisconsin in 2011.

"Nick had told me that Russell was a fan of mine," Brees said. "So I was waiting for the opportunity to meet him, and sure enough, we had that week together at the Pro Bowl. I couldn't have been more impressed. You can tell the guy loves football. We talked a lot of football. We talked about a lot of other stuff, too, but he's a student of the game. He wants to be great, and I think he was just soaking it all up."

Seattle coach Pete Carroll said he knew about Wilson's admiration for Brees, adding that he heard Wilson "puppy-dogged" Brees around the hotel Pro Bowl week.

"But I know Drew was really good to him," Carroll said. "They had nice conversations and [Wilson] felt like he really took some things away from that week that have helped him."

Wilson could write a technical guide on Brees and his skills.

"He’s so accurate with the football," Wilson said of Brees. "He has a purpose to everything he does, whether it's his footwork or the type of throw that he's making. And he lifts the other players up. He makes the other 10 guys in the huddle better.”

That's what many people say about Wilson, who celebrates his 25th birthday Friday. Wilson is having a remarkable second season for the 10-1 Seahawks. He never has lost at home, a perfect 13-0, and he is one touchdown pass away from becoming only the fourth player in NFL history to throw 20 TD passes in each of his first two seasons.

At age 34 in his 13th NFL season, Brees has passed for 3,647 yards and 28 touchdowns in leading the Saints to a 9-2 record. Brees has a 107.3 rating, one spot above Wilson’s 105.1.

If the MVP of the league were selected today, it likely would be Peyton Manning first, Brees second and Wilson third.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton said there's a simple reason why both Wilson and Brees are successful.

"You start with the fact that they're winners," Payton said. "Wilson understands what it takes to win and I think Drew is very much the same way. But you probably also have two players that had that chip on their shoulders a little bit."

Both men have proved their doubters wrong, scouts and NFL experts who felt they were too small to get the job done over the long haul.

"There are a lot of similarities between us," Brees said. "Maybe with the way that we entered this league, being that we weren’t first-round draft picks or anything like that. There were question marks about our size and all of those things, and yet, you just find a way to overcome it when given an opportunity. You make the most of it.

"Certainly [Wilson] has done that. He's been fun to watch. He's a great competitor and the sky's the limit for a guy like that. Watching from afar, those are the kind of guys you root for. He deserves all of the success in the world."

Wilson found NFL success, in part, by looking up to man who already achieved it.

"I love watching him play," Wilson said of Brees. "Playing with him in the Pro Bowl was a special moment for me, seeing how he goes about his business on a daily basis.

"I would look at him and say, 'That’s what I want to be like one day.' I’m a constant work in a progress and I’ve got a long way to go. But he's definitely a great person to look up to."

And what about that Saints cap he has? Wilson said he hid it.

"I don’t wear it anymore," Wilson said laughing. "Obviously, I love the Seahawks now. This is a special place to play."