“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
When Russell Wilson came into the NFL as a 5’10 third round pick in 2012, I initially wrote articles on why it would be a little absurd to expect him to become a regular starter, at least as a rookie. Not that he couldn’t become one — because I try hard to not write about the future in absolutes — but only that I wouldn’t expect him to based on decades of evidence against quarterbacks at 6’ or under.
Then I saw him play in the third preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs and threw all that bullshit history out the window. Wilson wasn’t here to repeat history, he was here to make it.
Over the course of his rookie season — which included perhaps the only stretch of trial or tribulation he’s faced as a professional quarterback, the 7-game start (8 TD, 7 INT, 79.5 rating) that had some doubting if he should be playing over Matt Flynn — Wilson made it clear that he was not a backup quarterback. In the final nine games of the season, Wilson had 18 touchdowns, three interceptions, and a rating of 116.5 as the Seahawks went from two 7-9 seasons under Pete Carroll before him to winning seven of their last eight games and making the playoffs as an 11-5 wild card team.
Despite his revolutionary play, which also included 361 rushing yards and four touchdowns over those last eight, Wilson was never in serious contention for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He lost to the “more revolutionary” Robert Griffin III (and would have still lost to He Who Shall Not Be Slandered regardless) in that race, but won the more important battle as Seattle defeated Washington in Washington for a chance at the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round.
As a 24-year-old rookie, Wilson went on the road and faced a 20-0 deficit at halftime and 27-7 going into the fourth quarter, struggling his way to what could have and probably should have been his first embarrassing defeat in years. He hadn’t faced a bad loss during his senior season at Wisconsin and the Seahawks didn’t lose a single game by more than 7 points in 2012.
Wilson had kept the Badgers and Seahawks in every contest — with no lack of credit to Seattle’s defense of course — but this Falcons team with Matt Ryan had outmatched them for virtually every step in the divisional round of the playoffs. There was only one problem for Atlanta and it was perhaps also the only personal criticism that Wilson has faced throughout his life other than his height.
That he has no emotion. No personality. Nothing behind the eyes other than a football-driven determination to win. Don’t believe me that this “Russell Wilson is a robot” thing wasn’t that big at the time?
This Real Rob Report video from January of 2013 was released literally the week before the Seahawks went to Atlanta to face the Falcons in this very game. It is titled: “Is Russell Wilson a robot” and it stars John Moffitt.
Wilson’s robotic-laden “personality” has made him the butt of jokes for years, including his off-field persona that often seems like a guy trying to be a guy. He does seem almost robotic or alien when he interacts with other people, that he’s attempting to interpret how he’s seen others act either on TV or in movies or music videos, because maybe interacting with other people has been a relatively minor part of his life after years of extensively training to be the greatest football player in the world.
When you see Wilson in the Entourage movie, that seems to be an example of him trying to be one of the guys.
When you see Wilson embrace Cable Thanos aka Josh Cashman, it’s not surprising because of Josh — I think 99% of Twitter has embraced and would like to be personal friends with Josh — but because one of the world’s most famous athletes is now buddy-buddy with a dude who came from nowhere to be a social media phenomenon. But Josh makes Russell Wilson look normal. That’s how talented he is. And I think Wilson desperately wants to be “normal.”
Except that he isn’t and that’s why he is the greatest football player in the world. At this point I can see that it’s not about being “emotionless” for Wilson. He’s as emotional as they come. He’s got feelings and we’ve seen him embrace those feelings more and more over the last eight years. We’ve actually seen Wilson cuss. We’ve seen him get excited. If he’s not emotional at this point, then he’s a fantastic actor, and I think we know that’s not true because did I mention the Entourage movie?
He has emotions, but what separates Wilson from most people on this planet and even most athletes in the NFL is that he’s not at the mercy of those emotions.
He has no tilt — an expression used in poker for when a player takes a “bad beat” and starts to make riskier moves because that person has let their emotional reaction to a negative, or a positive, outcome affect their subsequent moves with less rationale and logic than they’d normally use.
Wilson doesn’t let his emotions control his game, he dominates his emotions so that he can dominate opposing teams.
Down 27-7 in his second playoff game and only 18th professional game overall, with 17 minutes and 11 seconds to go, Wilson led a touchdown drive from his own 20. He went 4-of-4 for 69 yards and scored a rushing touchdown to cap it off. On the following drive, starting at the Seattle 38, he 3-of-3 for 57 yards and a touchdown.
27-21. now 9:13 remaining.
After a short, unsuccessful drive in which he went 0-for-3, Wilson didn’t let himself get concerned with failure or the fact that only 5:40 remained as the Seahawks punted it back to the Falcons. He waited. He believed in his defense and his defense returned him to the field with a six-point deficit and 3 minutes to go from his own 39.
Wilson went 3-of-4 for 56 yards and after a 2-yard Marshawn Lynch touchdown, Seattle led 28-27 and only :31 seconds remained on the clock. You want to talk about emotions? I felt so many emotions that day. I felt so many emotions that day in fact that it was the last day that I ever smoked a cigarette after 10 years of being a half-pack/pack-a-day smoker because after you-know-what-happened-next, I needed to have something good in my life happen at that moment.
I opted to quit smoking. Wilson opted to come back the next year and win the Super Bowl.
We’ve seen this no-tilt in Wilson over and over and over again. There should be no question in anyone’s mind that whether you beat him or you don’t beat him, he’ll shake your hand after the game. He’ll accept the result. He may be the guy throwing the Hail Mary on Monday Night Football to beat the Green Bay Packers in 2012 when so many said it was an “unjust” result or he may be the guy throwing the Hail Mary to beat the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 NFC Championship Game after one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.
Whether it’s against the Packers or the Packers or the Packers, Wilson is unaffected because he dominates his emotions just as much as he dominates defensive coordinators and oncoming pass rushers who have often felt their hopes of a sack turn to farts in the breeze. He doesn’t just have the physical gifts that have made him the best deep ball passer in the league with a rushing/scrambling ability rivaled by few passers in history, or the off-game motivation Monday-Saturday to become the best player on Sundays, but his robotic, persona non exista soulless attitude late in games is clearly an advantage that few quarterbacks/football players/athletes/homo sapiens have in their toolbox.
That was seen again on Monday Night Football as the Seahawks went on the road to San Francisco and beat the previously-undefeated 49ers 27-24 in overtime.
Facing off against the best pass defense in the NFL and playing behind an outmatched offensive line, without Will Dissly, with Tyler Lockett consistently left out as an option, and Josh Gordon getting plenty of snaps for a team he hadn’t practiced with until days earlier, Wilson unsurprisingly had one of his worst passing performances of the season. Despite that, his “worst” is 70% completions, a touchdown, and 53 rushing yards.
But Wilson also had an interception that the game needed to go to 65 minutes in order for it to happen. It was at that time that the game appeared lost.
If Wilson puts another 6” under the football — 4 more inches than the additional height he’d need in order to get credit from his draft year doubters who refuse to change their opinions on Wilson eight years later — then his only interception instead becomes his second straight game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to Jacob Hollister. But he didn’t.
Wilson made his second-most regrettable throw of the year and was picked off by Dre “Call Me Malcom Butler” Greenlaw, who returned it past the 50-yard line and into Seattle territory. The game, as far as most viewers were concerned, was almost over and the 49ers would not only get the best of the Seahawks ...
They’d specifically gotten the better of Wilson. Or so it appeared. Except there was only one moment within that minute or so after the pick that I can remember.
It was the moment where I thought to myself, “Wow, is Wilson really clapping right now? I am having a hard time believing that the Seahawks will get the ball back but clearly he and I do not agree.”
Watch the play again, in real time, from snap to clap.
The first thing you see is Pete Carroll ignoring the interception — because if you’re living in the moment, who cares about the interception at that point — and gathering his defense to hype them up that this game was not over if they could just get a stop or do no worse than force a long field goal attempt. Then you see angle after angle ... after angle of Greenlaw making Wilson look like anything like an MVP. At least for this game.
Then you see the motherfuckin’ MVP. Clapping. Walking down the sidelines. Unafraid to face his teammates and hype them up to go out there and win a game in which their win probability had fallen to 25% — which seems awfully generous. San Francisco need only gain 20 yards to setup for the same field goal attempt that they had at the end of regulation to send it to overtime.
The 49ers gained 20 yards exactly. It didn’t feel good. Similar to the 2012 divisional playoff loss, Carroll called a timeout to ice the kicker. But this time, he shanked it. Murdered it to the left.
Perhaps Chase McLaughlin — wish him all the best, I suppose, as a person — was too filled with emotions. Maybe his emotions dominated him to the left. But Wilson got another shot to control the game as he saw fit and to not let his interception be the lasting impression of Week 10.
His never-say-finished, never-say-die, never-say-anything-unscripted-because-I’m-an-NFC-Westworld-robot attitude put him on the field again. And even with a 3-and-out that again could have or should have been their final shot, Wilson remained encouraged that the game wasn’t over. Jimmy Garoppolo — 0-for-3 and draining all of :14 seconds off the clock on his last drive — made damn sure it wasn’t.
Facing 3rd-and-3 with nothing left to do but gain a first down or give the ball back to San Francisco, Wilson found 18 yards on the ground and set himself up to need one more play for a Jason Myers field goal attempt. Wilson gained 8 more yards on the next play with a pass to DK Metcalf and Myers didn’t have to chase anything but a victory.
For the previous 70 minutes of football, Wilson didn’t show much emotion. He didn’t have any personality. He doesn’t have to. During that time, he’s a football player, not a football person. That’s what has helped make him the best football player in the world in 2019 and I have no doubt that’s what should be the case when MVP voting is finalized. He’s got the statistics, the win/loss record, the game-winning drives, the highlights, the wins over “better” teams, the road victories, the narrative about his lack of support, and virtually anything else you could ask for in an MVP.
And when there are 0 seconds left on the clock, with the Seahawks having more points than their opponents, don’t you dare tell me that he doesn’t have the emotions either. With his team tied and needing a huge defensive stop, he claps.
With his team leaving the Bay Area with a win, he jaunts.
This is not a robot.
Not when he doesn’t need to be.
This is the MVP.
In 2015, Russell Wilson faced the 9th-hardest schedule of defenses (DVOA) and lost MVP to Cam Newton, who faced easiest schedule.— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) November 13, 2019
In 2019, Wilson's faced the 13th-most difficult schedule of defenses. 32nd? Lamar Jackson.
Thank you for reading this piece on Russell Wilson. If you want to read more about his MVP campaign, I am consistently writing about it over on Seaside Joe, a daily Seahawks newsletter, and talking about it on Seaside Reactions, a weekly podcast I do about the Seahawks. With the bye coming up this week, that means it’s time for another BONUS episode and I’ve also recently changed up some options the Patreon tiers for anyone who wants to support and to be a part of the newsletter/podcast. I haven’t done enough to show how much I appreciate and am grateful for your support, so here are a few more options if you decide you want to be a Patreon supporter. If not, then I still encourage you to sign up for the free newsletter. In the meantime, the next Seaside Reactions podcast will be taking Q and As from listeners/readers and in the future will have entire episodes controlled by the audience who wants to control the topic of the week. If nothing else though, thanks for coming to Field Gulls today and Go Hawks!
Here are the new tiers on Patreon for anyone interested.
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Finally, there’s a $25/month tier because I feel like every Patreon has to have a much higher tier just to see if anyone will do it. You get everything else but during that month you can tell me what you want me to talk about on the podcast. You choose the topic of a podcast and I hit it hard during the show, highlighting your topic and diving deep into research and stats (if relevant) to make the episode about that.
So if any of that interests you, you can go to my Patreon page and either sign up for the first time or edit your previous pledge to maybe go from $2 to $5 or $5 to $10 and so on. Or you could also go from $5 to $3, anything is possible. Thank you again.
I love Russell Wilson, which is an emotion he can never deny.