John Schneider was on the phone with owner Paul Allen in April 2012, just after the Seahawks in the third round of the NFL draft selected Russell Wilson, a highly successful but vertically challenged college quarterback.
“So you took the little guy, huh?” Schneider recalled Allen saying.
“‘Yeah, I did. I did, Paul. We did. We did. Uh, yeah.”
Allen hung up. Schneider handed the phone to coach Pete Carroll.
“What did he say?” Carroll asked.
“He didn’t say anything, man.”
Then Schneider turned sarcastic: “He was super fired-up.”
It was hardly the first time Wilson had been underestimated.
Now, of course, he’s the most highly paid athlete in the most successful sports league on the third rock from the sun.
Ironically enough, that preposterous outcome, announced Tuesday, has prompted a fresh round of skepticism: Good as Wilson is, there’s no way a franchise can build a championship team with one player sucking up so much payroll (probably more than 18 percent in 2020) in a league with with a hard salary cap.
Carroll could barely contain his snicker Wednesday.
“In particular, I love that kind of challenge,” he said, grinning. “He does too. We don’t care about that. But we do like the opportunity to go kick butt on that kind of a thought, that you can’t get it done.
“That’s kind of right up our alley, so ain’t nothing wrong with that.”
For an event given over to giddiness — the celebratory audience in the auditorium at team headquarters in Renton was filled with Wilson’s family and friends, as well as teammates and staffers — Carroll was not about to reign in his impulse to go maverick.
Carroll took the draft risk on Wilson, took another risk in starting him from the git-go, then pursued with him a run-heavy offense that ran counter to the pass-heavy offenses overtaking the league that appear to, ahem, short-change Wilson’s air skills.
Now Carroll, dismissing the chance to replenish a roster by trading Wilson, has embraced the fresh risk the idea of building a title team despite a misshapen payroll.
Kick butt. Right up the alley.
Carroll is entitled to his smugness because the track record, which includes playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons and two Super Bowls, says he can. He can say it only because he has Wilson. And he and Schneider not only drafted him, they induced him to re-up because of how they built the enterprise — of, by and for Wilson, who hugged back.
Money aside — he was going to get his astronomical numbers wherever he ended up in the NFL — Carroll and Schneider undercut agent Mark Rodgers’ leverage in negotiations by making the joint so attractive that it became Wilson’s priority to stay.
“When it came down to it, it was a no-brainer for me to want to be in Seattle, and I want to be a Seahawk for life,” he said. “That was kind of my mentality.”
That’s not what an agent wants to hear. An agent wants rumors of wanderlust, as with the New York Giants last month. He hoped Ciara’s pop-music career might influence a decision for a power couple to move to her choice, either Los Angeles or New York (or Las Vegas, once the Raiders arrive in 2020).
But Wilson, 30, is so old-school that he sounds like a 60-something baseball fan pining for the days before free agency when stars seemed wedded for life to their original clubs.
“The guys I’ve always admired in sports — the guys that played at (their) locations for 15-20 years, like Derek Jeter — I want to be like that,” Wilson said. “To be honest with you, I wanted to be in Seattle. It’s just because, really from the beginning of my professional career, it started here and my goal was to end it here.
“My goal is to have a lasting impression on this city, to be able to make a lot of people’s lives (better) — to cheer at the top of their lungs at football games and hopefully win a lot of Super Bowls.”
The rhetoric may sound corny to some, foolish to others. But consider that this is a town that lost the Pilots to Milwaukee and the Sonics to Oklahoma City. For a couple of weeks in 1996, they even lost the Seahawks to Orange County. They lost Ken Griffey Jr. to Cincinnati, Alex Rodriguez to Texas and Randy Johnson to Houston.
The feeling of sports abandonment in the cultural life of a marketplace is why baseball fans have hugged Edgar Martinez so hard their fingerprints are buried in his back.
But Wilson is a sufficient combination of sentimentalist and businessman to know that he he will have more success, influence and power post-career in Seattle than anywhere else. Since Seattle itself has become a player on the national and global stage, there’s no need to relocate. He can afford the airfare for visits.
“We’re just getting started,” he said. “I’m excited about where we’re headed and what we’re doing. We’ve got a great football team. A lot of amazing talents, guys who’ve worked extremely hard, great character guys.
“I can’t do it without you two guys next to me believing in me, couldn’t do it without my teammates making the difference.
“I want to be remembered in that sense, of what we want to do here in Seattle.”
With his mind made up likely long ago, Wilson asserted himself in January by setting an April 15 deadline for a contract extension, correctly understanding that the QB market wasn’t going to change later in the off-season. The last time he re-upped in 2015, the signing was on the first day of training camp, which was preceded by endless national speculation about his future.
Far from seeing the deadline as a threat, even Schneider recognized the wisdom.
“The April 15 deal for us was a good idea,” he said. “The last one, quite frankly, took too long and took a lot of energy away from what we were supposed to be doing. So, we thought it was a good idea on their part and it worked out for both sides.”
Wilson didn’t want a repeat.
“For me and for everyone involved . . . it was really more, ‘Hey, let’s figure out how we can make sure that we don’t have to drag out this whole process,'” he said. “Everybody writing, everybody talking, everybody speculating . . . I just remain focused on what I really want to do and that’s win.”
For a sports town used to abandonment, and a quarterback used to dismissal, the fit is tight and right. In the history of Seattle sports, the big deal this week was bigger than even the NFL understood.