Russell Wilson's contract is one of the biggest stories in the National Football League this offseason. But as the Seattle Seahawks quarterback eased into a chair by a fireplace Monday at Suncadia Resort in suburban Seattle for our conversation, I wondered about much more than money. I wondered about the man.
He's a bit mysterious to sports fans, holds a stacked-hand close to the vest. It's understandable. When a man spends his entire life working to prove others wrong -- and in his case, succeeding -- he's not apt to let you peer too deeply beneath the leather-tough surface. But I figured I would try.
What would his father think of him? How did others' disbelief in him make him who he is; and has Tom O'Brien ever admitted he was wrong? What moments made Wilson so introspective? Does the final play off Super Bowl XLIX haunt him?
And, back to that contract for a moment, naturally: given a current market that paid Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton $60 million guaranteed, and Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill $45 million guaranteed, what does the man who led the Seahawks to two-straight Super Bowls and the first world championship in team history deserve?
I received more than I expected. He is a thoughtful person, and has spent obvious time pondering his path.
This is our entire conversation:
Marty Smith: First, I'd like to discuss your philanthropic efforts. We're here today at The Drive, your children's cancer charity event with your friend, NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne. Kasey told me you visit the Seattle Children's Hospital weekly. Why is it so important to you to give back?
Russell Wilson: First of all, God's given me an amazing opportunity to inspire and influence a lot of people. And the kids really mean a lot to me. They always have, ever since I was a little kid, coming up through high school and college, going to the children's hospital all throughout college.
When I first got to Seattle that's what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to make my stamp - every Tuesday. That's an off day in the NFL, so I wanted to make my stamp there. Kasey has been a big part of that, too. He's joined me on that. He goes to children's hospitals when he can. The Drive is a huge opportunity for us to raise a lot of money for a lot of kids, and save a lot of lives. The idea of Strong Against Cancer, and what we're doing there.
MS: I imagine that has to be one story you have, of someone who battled cancer that truly impacted you. What's that story?
RW: I've had so many. The past three years being in Seattle, going to the Seattle Children's Hospital. But the one story has to be why Strong Against Cancer occurred, the whole emphasis for Strong Against Cancer. There's this kid named Milton, he was 19 years old, about a year and a half ago. African-American male. Very good-looking guy, a model, played quarterback. And he had cancer three different times.
And at 19 years old they told him he only had 24 hours left. The doctor came in and told him there's really only one more thing we can try, and we're thinking about trying. It was a whole idea about taking the T cells out of a child and regenerating, re-energizing them, and putting them back in. Within two weeks, Milton was healed.
It's miraculous. They've been able to save more than 20 kids in the past year. It's a very special thing. I had to see it firsthand. Milton's a friend of mine, I see him every once in a while, talk to him. He's very strong. He's living life the way he always wanted to. Those are the things Kasey and I really wanted to be a part of, to challenge other celebrities to encourage and raise money to save people's lives like Milton's.
MS: You wrote an amazing piece on Father's Day about your Dad. What do you think your Dad would think about how you're doing now?
RW: He'd be smiling from ear to ear. The thing my dad would be most proud about it, honestly, is being consistent. Consistent in my approach. Not perfect, but consistent. That's what he always preached -- consistency in the way I prepare, consistency on and off the field. And my spiritual life, as well. My mom would say the same thing. Always believing. Always overcoming obstacles.
I always believe adversity is opportunity. That's my family's mantra. I've always been the underdog. I've always had to go against the odds a little bit. That's been a blessing. I never shy away from greatness and I never shy away from the opportunity to excel.
MS: You absolutely have had to overcome odds. What has others' disbelief in your talent and ability done to mold you? How has that helped you grow as a man?
"I continue to love the game for what it is and continue to fight and continue to play no matter how much I'm getting paid, no matter if it's $25 million or if it's $1.5 million."Russell Wilson
RW: Ever since I was 7, 8, 10 years old, I had these big dreams. I had these ideas of where I wanted to go and what I was going to be. It didn't seem too far-fetched for me, because I worked at it every single day. God had given me the talent, but I always worked to perfect my craft at a young age, playing five baseball games a weekend. Same thing with football, throwing as much as I could to my brother and my dad at 7 years old, getting up at 5:30 in the morning to go do that. My parents instilled that in me, that fight and that discipline that it takes to overcome. My dad used to always tell me, Russ, you're not just competing against the guy that's on your team that you're fighting for that position against, you're competing against the guys in California, the guys in Arizona, the guys in another country.
So that was always my thought process, every time I went to the gym, every time I went to throw a football, every time I went to go shoot baskets with my buddy Scott Pickett. That was my mindset. I tried to elevate to every opportunity and obstacle. I think the idea of overcoming and achieving things that people never thought I could or will, ultimately comes down to the experiences I've had, too. I've experienced success. And I don't shy away from that.
MS: You've had unparalleled success the past couple of years in the NFL. What makes a great quarterback?
RW: The guys you have around you. For sure. I have tremendous football players around me, and I love playing with those guys. I also think leadership and being clutch, and when the game's on the line stepping up more times than not. Preparation can never be underestimated. You have to prepare. You have to get ready. You have to make sure you've gone through every single thing.
If you're prepared you're never nervous. I love playing the game. When it comes to Sunday -- there' s no greater day than Sunday. It's a spiritual thing for me. It's an emotional thing. It's an opportunity. It's not pressure. Game day is not pressure. Pressure is my mom, trying to take care of my dad laying on his deathbed. That's pressure. Playing on Sunday, playing quarterback in the National Football League -- I'm one of 32 men in the world that get to do what I do.
MS: On that very note, you're one of 32, but there's the "franchise quarterback." What's a franchise quarterback?
RW: You have to tell me.
MS: I have no idea. I have absolutely no idea what that means.
RW: A franchise quarterback has to be a winner. It's a guy who can change the game, and has a huge affect on the game, on the field, week in and week out.
MS: So what would you say to somebody who says you're not a franchise quarterback, based on numbers?
RW: I don't know what numbers they're looking at.
MS: There's only one that matters.
RW: There's only one that matters. It comes down to wins. Wins and being clutch. I believe every time I have the opportunity, I'm going to find a way to win. There's a few times I haven't. But there's a few times I have.
MS: Nobody has won more than you in the last several years. We've seen what some of your peers have gotten on the market recently. Based on the current market for the quarterback, and based on your resume, what do you deserve?
RW: I don't know. How much would you pay me, Marty?
MS: I mean, you won a Super Bowl. And you took them to another Super Bowl.
RW: Ultimately, it comes down to the play. Let my play speak for itself and let the rest take care of itself. Continue to love the game for what it is and continue to fight no matter how much I'm getting paid, whether it's $25 million or $1.5 million. I'll be ready to go.
MS: I've read that you've said you'd like to stay in Seattle. What's your relationship like with the Seahawks right now?
RW: It's great. I don't think it's a bad relationship by any means. We won a Super Bowl. I've had the opportunity to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history, and win however many games, I don't know -- 40-plus games. I've had great experiences with a lot of guys, a lot of fight and a lot of tears. Big games. Tough moments and great moments. A lot of great moments. So ultimately, I obviously want to stay in Seattle. It's a great place, a place that I arrived on May 10, 2012. I'll never forget that day. I'll never forget April 27th, when I was drafted in the third round, 75th pick overall, they gave me an opportunity.
MS: You know the numbers well.
RW: I never forget certain dates.
MS: They written down anywhere?
RW: I wouldn't show it to you if I did. But those are the types of things I'll never forget. I'm grateful for that. I love playing in the National Football League. I have a championship mindset. Always have.
MS: And you are a champion. Let's go back to the last Super Bowl. That last play on that last drive. What happened?
RW: Well, we had 2:01 left on the clock. We hit a big play to Marshawn Lynch down the sideline. We checked the play, hit him down the sideline, he runs a great route, makes a great catch. Jermaine Kearse makes another great catch to get to the 5-yard line. We get to the 1-yard line, and they make a play. That's what happened.
MS: How much do you think about it?
RW: Not anymore than I think about anything else. I don't really think about it unless somebody brings it up. But I always move on. When we won that first Super Bowl in Seahawks history and I was able to hold up the Lombardi Trophy, when I pulled down the trophy I was already thinking about the next opportunity to play.
When that 1-yard line play happened, and Malcolm Butler makes a phenomenal play, you question it, whatever, the play happened. You move on. You have to. Whether it's football or it's life, I can't think that far back. Sometimes you look back to see how far you've come. That's just the way I am.
The reason why I do look back, if I'm by myself, is because I want to see how far I'm willing to go, and how much more I'm willing to put in. That's what I rely on. That's the determination that I try to bring every day. I believe I'm going to have one of the best years of my life coming up. That's not because of one bad play. That's because of a lot of great plays and some bad plays in the past, and a lot of great moments in life and some bad moments in life, and growing up when I didn't have much and people didn't think I could do it. I'm never going to waver. I'm too blessed to be stressed about it.
MS: I'm really intrigued by you. You're a really thoughtful person. I can tell you think about these things. So I wonder, what's the moment in your life that had the most impact, to give you this philosophy?
RW: That's a great question. Nobody's ever asked me that. There's a few moments. I'll never forget, there was a time when my dad was hitting me balls. I was playing shortstop. It was 6 o'clock in the morning, sun just came up. My brother was playing first base. I was probably in fourth grade. Dad kept hitting me balls, right at me, to the left, to the right. Go again, go again. I had that moment of, 'I can do this.'
And we stopped playing baseball and moved down to the football field, because we always played baseball and then football. And I remember throwing him deep post routes to my brother, and 15-yard comebacks to my dad on the sideline from the left hash. And I thought, 'I can do this.' And then I think about going into high school and playing three sports and overcoming a lot of things.
And when I was in ninth or 10th grade there were other quarterbacks in my high school, and they were good, and I had to fight against that. I've never had it easy. I've always had to work for it. I love that. I love fighting for anything. I don't remember one play since fourth grade that I took a play off mentally or physically. Going to college, and my head coach telling me my freshman year to move to safety, and I said, 'No.' I didn't believe it. I'm going to play quarterback and I'm going to play in the National Football League.
He still told me I was too small to play in the National Football League. That's the confidence. The preparation. The belief. The heart. The relentless mindset it takes to do something when people either try to give you the praise or try to put you down. That's the key, unwavering mindset. Anybody who's great -- and I'm not saying I'm great -- I'm working to be great. That's the mindset I'm not willing to let go -- a relentless mindset.
MS: Tom O'Brien ever tell you he was wrong?
RW: No. No, he never told me he was wrong. I don't know what he thinks now.
MS: I have an idea.
RW: I've realized this in my life. I played at NC State for three years, graduated in three years and played football and baseball there. There's a reason why I went to NC State. And me, reflecting back on this the past couple of years, reflecting back on my life, there's a reason I went to NC State.
I committed to NC State, and Tom O'Brien came and it was a great opportunity. But I also had the opportunity to go to Florida State, and leave. And I love Florida State. Football and baseball. Jimbo Fisher was the new head coach there. But there's a reason I wanted to stay at home -- it's because my dad all of a sudden got sick.
I didn't know he would get sick. It happened all of a sudden. I used to drive up to home on Thursday nights, late at night, 10 or 11 o'clock at night, and get home to visit my dad at the hospital or at home, and get back in the car and drive back early the next morning for a Saturday game. Those are the things God prepared me for and having a vision over my life. I think about having to transfer from NC State to Wisconsin, I never expected that.
I thought I'd play four years there and have my buddy Phillip Rivers that I was always competing with in my head. He's a good football player. He's been doing it pretty good for a long time. Those are the people I looked up to, and thought in my head, I want to be like that. And then I had to move and go to the University of Wisconsin. But my dad used to always say, 'You know this guy Barry Alvarez? University of Wisconsin!' And I'd be like, 'Dad, I don't even know where Wisconsin is on the map.' I had no idea. But I go there and it's a blessing.
It's the same thing with the Seattle Seahawks. I never was worried about when I'd get picked. I always said, 'Wherever one team picks me, then 31 other teams are going to regret it.'