It’s apparent that if Russell Wilson gets any more relaxed in the maelstrom of pro football, the Seahawks will need to pack cardio paddles in the huddle in case their guy momentarily flatlines. But his remarkable cool begins to dissolve a bit when he talks about his football hero, Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
“When you meet him, he’s just so poised, he’s so patient, he’s so understanding,” said Wilson, even more gee-whiz and animated than usual. “But he’s also has a sense of urgency to himself about everything that he does. He’s very disciplined in his approach.”
Monday night at the Clink is the first field meeting between the quarterbacks when the Seahawks (10-1) and New Orleans Saints (9-2) play one of the most anticipated games of the season. But Wilson, who turned 25 Friday, has idolized Brees, 34, for so long they may have been twins separated by nine years.
Poised. Patient. Understanding. Urgent. Disciplined. And under six feet tall.
Same descriptors for Wilson. Coach Pete Carroll is well aware the quarterbacks may have come out of the same 3-D printer, even though they met up for the first time at last season’s Pro Bowl game.
“I’m sure that (Russell) kind of puppy-dogged him around the hotel or something, to get his chance,” Carroll said, grinning. “But I know Drew was really good to him. They had nice conversations. He felt like he really took some things away from that that have helped him.”
Wilson said the first thing he asked Brees was how he separated himself from his first to second pro season, and then from the second year to the rest of his career.
“‘It’s my approach every day,” Wilson quoted him as saying. ” ‘Every day, I walk into the locker room, every day that I wake up, it’s a constant grind to try to improve myself. Whether it’s the weight room, whether it’s my flexibility, whether it’s my reads . . . no matter what it is, I have a purpose to the day.’
“So it’s the same philosophy that I’ve always (followed). But it’s also good to hear it from a guy that’s going to be a hall of famer.”
It wasn’t surprising that there were no surprises. Wilson had been preparing for the meeting for a dozen years. As a kid growing up in Virginia, he had not heard of Brees, a Texas high school star who was lighting up the Big Ten Conference at Purdue, where his last game was a 34-24 loss to Washington in the 2001 Rose Bowl.
“My dad used to always tell me, ‘Man, you got to watch this guy Drew Brees from Purdue.’ I was like, ‘Who is Drew Brees? Where’s Purdue at?
“Then I realized (Purdue was) throwing the ball a ton with him in the shotgun, 4-wide, 5-wide, and he was just killing teams.”
Wilson said he read Brees’s books (he has three), watched film of his play, and even of his interviews. Then he watched him in the huddle at the Pro Bowl.
“Drew is the No. 1 quarterback, Eli (Manning) is No. 2, and I’m No. 3,” he said. “You got Larry Fitzgerald in the huddle. You got Vincent Jackson, Julio Jones, Jason Witten, Jeff Saturday, Adrian Peterson. I’m just kind of standing there, looking. He brought all those guys in to the huddle and just got all of their attention so quickly, by the inflection in his voice, by the determination that he had to simply win the Pro Bowl.
“All those things go into a being a great football player and being a great quarterback. Like I’ve always said to you guys: Great quarterbacks have leadership, great attention to detail, and a relentless competitive nature.”
Those virtues were what Carroll and GM John Schneider spotted in scouting Wilson’s college career. Then they went looking for NFL analogies in the successful careers of quarterbacks labeled too short: George Mira, Eddie LeBaron and of course, Brees.
“We (looked at) short guys that might have had careers that kind of crossed the boundary from what everybody was accepting,” Carroll said. “My most significant connection was with (retired Minnesota coach Bud) Grant about Fran Tarkenton. I felt like he had the real sense of what we might be getting into.
“Drew was always been in that conversation at the early part of that decision.”
Before the Pro Bowl, Brees said he had been tipped that Wilson was a big fan and on the way by Nick Toon, a Saints receiver who was with Wilson at Wisconsin.
“I was kind of waiting for the opportunity,” Brees told Seattle reporters last week via teleconference. “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. He’s a student of the game, he wants to be great. I think he was just soaking it all up.”
Even though Wilson and Brees operate different styles of offense — the pass-happy Saints have provided Brees with more completions (300) than Wilson has attempts (275) — their efficient production is nearly identical: Brees is fourth in the NFL’s passer rating at 107.5 and Wilson is sixth at 105.1. Brees is hip to the link.
“There are a lot of similarities between us,” he said, “with the way that we entered this league — we weren’t first-round draft picks, or anything like that. There were question marks about our size. Yet you just find a way to overcome those things.”
In a matchup layered with storylines, Brees and Wilson, mentor and student, little guys astride the football colossus, is hard to top.