Strangely enough, you know who Russell Wilson reminds me of?

August 28th, 2012 | Written by Kip Earlywine

As I watched Wilson’s masterful performance against the Chiefs, I was reminded of how Wilson finds success by doing all the little things. On a protection breakdown, Wilson was flushed up the middle of the pocket. Leon Washington realized things were getting ugly and hustled into the flat on the right to serve as a safety valve. Wilson made the decision to run. Eric Berry stood in Wilson’s way, probably serving the Chiefs “spy” role on that play. Berry was there to stop Wilson from running. Wilson made a subtle move in Washington’s direction, then made a quick and deceptive fake shovel pass. Berry bit on it so hard that it turned him around completely, only to find out seconds later what had really happened. Wilson ran untouched for over 30 yards before gracefully jogging out of bounds.

It was that little “flick” that Wilson did. That little in the moment thing he did was the difference between five yards and thirty plus. When I scouted Wilson before the draft, what really blew me away was how well he did all those little things. His pump fakes were hard, fast, slingy and deceptive- the kind a DB almost has to bite on. I haven’t been watching football terribly long, but they were the nicest pump fakes I’ve seen. His play action could often fool not just linebackers, but cameramen as well. Brett Favre had that patented ability to make weird, ugly plays on the fly that worked. Wilson has that same ability, but even his “sandlot” plays look polished and oddly professional.

Origins

When Ichiro was just beginning his pro career in Japan, he discovered an unconventional swing. In Japan there is a saying: “the nail that stands out gets hammered down.” Ichiro faced intense pressure from hitting coaches and management to alter his swing to a more conventional one. Ichiro was 18 years old, and his then manager, Shozo Doi, was adamant that Ichiro reform his swing and even mockingly called it “the pendulum.” Ichiro didn’t relent, and in his professional debut, hit a home run off of (legendary over there) pitcher Hideo Nomo. Doi didn’t care, and demoted Ichiro back to the minors that same night. Eventually though, Ichiro’s results became hard to ignore, and he would go on to earn three straight MVP awards in Japan while essentially performing like his nation’s equivalent of Ted Williams.

Ichiro would later face further skepticism when he opted to hop the pond for the Majors. At the time, there was a major stigma in the States against Japanese position players. Some pitchers had found success in the majors but no hitter had ever made the leap and played at an all-star level. This perception was exacerbated by washed up or failed major leaguers signing in Japan and posting monster seasons. Thus, when Ichiro hit the posting system, there was a collective yawn across the major leagues. Seattle ended up posting the highest bid, a measly $13 million sum for one of the best pure hitters in Japan’s history.

Russell Wilson was told that he was too short pretty much from the very beginning. Despite being a star high school QB, he was only a two star recruit. The team that did sign Wilson, NC State, was holding a five man open competition at QB. Wilson, a true freshman, would beat out some heavily favored candidates and win the starting job outright. He’d have a very strong college career, culminating with the best statistical season in Division I history in 2011 for Wisconsin. It was a season in which his Badgers might have made the championship game if not for just a couple of freak plays.

Then the NFL draft rolled around, and almost everybody said he was too short. Amongst a sea of doubters, Jon Gruden stood as the voice of reason. He had only briefly known Wilson from his FFCA taping, but you could tell an impression had been forged. He stumped for Wilson with all the bias and passion of a proud father. Wilson’s talent deserved a top pick, but his height was a different story. Wilson would fall to the mid-third round pick. Shortly before his selection, the topic of Wilson came up, prompting Gruden to make his now legendary rant against Mel Kiper Jr. The frustration was evident on Gruden’s face. He knew as well right then as we know now that Wilson had been hosed out of millions of dollars, and a degree of opportunity, all for a form of discrimination that was both unfair and undeserved.

Thankfully, John Schneider was part of John Gruden’s Russell Wilson fanclub. He knew how good Wilson was, but also knew that something is only worth what people will pay or it. The Mariners won Ichiro because they knew something was there, but didn’t need to bet the farm to get him. The Seahawks did the same, by riding the line and grabbing Wilson at the latest possible spot they realistically could have in the third round.

Ichiro is a likely, if not slam dunk Hall of Famer. His unconventional swing worked just as well in the Majors as it did everywhere else. Clearly, if MLB GMs had anticipated this, there is no way that a team would have won his services for a meager $13 million bid. With the cat out of the bag, Japanese stars that followed Ichiro would earn two or even three times the posting fees for their Japanese teams, even though none of them would have the impact Ichiro did. In the same way, NFL GMs will soon look at Russell Wilson with that same air of draft day regret- wondering how they allowed themselves to pass on the Tom Brady they could have seen coming.

The catalyst

When Ichiro joined the Mariners in 2001, the team was coming off a surprise playoff run, but had just lost one of the most talented free agents in team, if not league history, when superstar Alex Rodriguez bolted to Texas for a record quarter billion dollar contract. The Mariners were a balanced team, with few stars but quality throughout. It was the blueprint of Pat Gillick, who subscribed to a “Honda Civics” style of roster construction, opting for cheap, quality veterans at every spot instead of just a few superstars on the same budget. There were some in the media who believed that the Mariners could be a good team, maybe even a wildcard. What none could anticipate was the historic 116 win season the Mariners were on the verge of.

Unlike football, baseball is not a game that can easily turn it’s fortunes on just one player. Value is spread throughout a starting roster pretty equally. An all glove shortstop could help you just as much as a no defense slugging outfielder. Even the best players in the league are only worth about 8 to 10 wins on their own. Statistically, Ichiro was “only” worth 7.6 wins that first season. But he, along with a surprise year from Brett Boone, created an atmosphere that infected the clubhouse and allowed that team to play way above their talent level, leading to a historic season. Ichiro didn’t just win Rookie of the Year, he won MVP. There were better performers that season, most especially Jason Giambi (worth 9.3 wins while playing for the 2nd best team in the Majors). But what Giambi lacked was that igniting factor that Ichiro brought. The energy and excitement Ichiro brought to the city of Seattle and the national storyline he created was what made that season truly special. Everything about Ichiro and that team, it was one of the most stunning developments in recent baseball memory.

Russell Wilson walked onto Wisconsin’s campus last year an outsider with some fanfare but undefined expectations. A few months later, he left as the unquestioned greatest quarterback in Wisconsin Badger’s history. He didn’t just play well, he elevated the team around him. John Schneider might say he “tilted the field.”

Wilson is not yet a superstar in the NFL. Yet I say the following with the certainty of Yoda: He will be. Give it a month or two. But even if Wilson flops horribly for some reason, he’ll still have fans falling over each other for his autograph in Madison, Wisconsin; Raleigh, North Carolina; and even in Richmond, Virginia, Wilson’s hometown. Everywhere Wilson goes, he turns doubters into believers, and he doesn’t take long to forge converts.

Before Wilson made his presence known, the Seahawks were by no means a bad football team. Many a savvy pundit had the Seahawks pegged as a darkhorse candidate in the NFC West, if not a strong candidate for a wildcard berth. But now that Wilson has proven his game can translate, it’s a whole new ballgame. The slingshot effect of going from Tarvaris Jackson and his struggles in the same areas where Wilson is strongest could be enormous and should not be taken lightly. Similar to Gillick’s “Honda Civics” type franchise model, this is a team with good to great talent at almost every position on the field, with a quarterback who has a chance to shock the world while energizing and elevating all those quality players around him. If I was a fan of any other NFL team with championship aspirations and I was paying attention, I’d be very worried about these Seattle Seahawks.

The little things

Ichiro wasn’t just a savvy hitter. He was also a savvy base runner and a polished, effortless defender. He could lay a clutch bunt with the best of them, and sometimes he’d even avoid the out. He played with a complete lack of nerves. Everthing was just a routine to Ichiro. Every day, he just followed that same process, almost like he was running off an internally programmed algorithm. Ichiro might as well have been a robot. Despite that robotic demeanor and taciturn tendencies, Ichiro knew how to charm. He gave legendary profanity laced pregame speeches in the All-star games he attended, every single one of which was won by his American League team. He once said that if he wanted to play a game in Cleveland he’d have to punch himself in the face because he’d be lying. And he just knew how to be cool in pretty much every corny Mariners commercial he was cast in.

Wilson is that same kind of cool cat. Wilson’s focus and consistency brings a new meaning to the phrase “living in the now.” He is never thinking about what might be happening if he misses this next pass, or thinking about the previous pass that wasn’t his best. He has that single minded focus of just making the play he has in the moment the best play he can make, and allows for nothing else.

Wilson is not a conventional charmer. You’d have to search long and far to find a press conference with more canned cliches. In improvisational situations, he lacks the quick wit of a Matt Hasselbeck or the Andre Benjamin styled cool weirdness of RG3. Yet he does have his moments. Like saying “Go Hawks” at the end of an interview, or at that cold killer look in his eyes when in the moment. I think he loves Jesus too much for the profanity laced pep talks though.

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I’m pretty sure I’m not the first person to realize this connection. I’m pretty sure I saw someone else make the “icon” comparison a few days ago. It wasn’t until just before I wrote this that the full weight of the comparison really sank in for me. Ichiro was so much more than an icon. He was a hero to his fanbase. There is an emotional connection to Ichiro that just doesn’t really exist even with any of the Mariners other superstars. Fans loved Edgar, Junior, and Randy, but Ichiro took star fandom to a different level.

With Wilson, I’m seeing the same thing. Everywhere he goes, he forges and immediate and unmistakable emotional connection to everyone he comes in contact with. A connection that goes beyond respect. It reminds me of how at Gettysburg the confederate soldiers begged Robert E. Lee to rescind his retreat order. Their cause may have been misguided, but their devotion and belief in their general was unshakable, to the point of laying down their lives without hesitation.  That same kind of aura follows Wilson everywhere he goes.

There was a classic moment on Seinfeld where Jerry talks about how we don’t root for the players- we root for the laundry they are wearing. It’s so true. I mean, just look at the fan reaction to Braylon Edwards before and after he signed here. Or to Mike Williams before and after he was cut. We like our players, but we like winning more.

But some players, they transcend that and actually establish that rare sense of emotional endearment to the fanbase. A good example of this was Matt Hasselbeck, who still had many passionate supporters even after struggling for three seasons. Even those who wanted to move on from Hasselbeck still remember the good times and will miss the man off the field.

Ichiro was one of those rare players that was much more than an icon. The word “fan” is rooted from the word “fanatic,” and everywhere Wilson has gone, he’s transformed skeptics into fans and fans into fanatics. You can already see it. He’s doing it again. Soon, Wilson will be an icon. And soon after that, he’ll be more than an icon. For a long time to come.

42 Responses to “Strangely enough, you know who Russell Wilson reminds me of?”

  1. By the way, we are changing the name of the site to Russell Wilson, Interrupted. Just in case you guys were wondering what was going on.

    I figured I’d get that joke in before someone else did. :)

  2. BigD_Hawks says:

    Kip, amazingly written article. You are the Ichiro of Bloggers!

    Seriously though, this article should be submitted to ESPN or a some other “major” site. It was incredibly well written. Great work as always, and thanks!

    • AgentJ says:

      This article went far too long for Kip to be the Ichiro of Bloggers! An Ichiro of Bloggers would be someone who simply puts his tweets in blog form and posts over 260 of them in a single season.

  3. Stuart says:

    Kip, I feel your love for Russell Wilson. Excellent write up!

  4. Rugby Lock says:

    Brilliant stuff as usual Kip

  5. jason says:

    Honestly that was the worst comparisons ever. Will wilson throw a checkdown under 1 minute to pad his completion percentage? Will he get coaches fired like Hargrove who quit during an 8 game winning streak in the wild card hunt? Will he never speak to the media ever in 11 years? Will he ignore signs like hit and runs and steal signs? Ichiro was great but a me first, Wilson is not and do some research about the real Ichiro

  6. jason says:

    Ichiro was not and never will be Griffey, Johnson, or Edgar sorry bro

    • TD says:

      Griffey and Johnson were not me first guys? Laughable! Might as well throw A-Rod into that group too.

  7. jason says:

    unreal i keep seeing more BS you just compared Ichiro to Ted Williams……Ted would have beat Ichiros ass for bunting down 1 run in the ninth with a runner on second like he did many times…..Stick to Football your great at that….

  8. Colin says:

    I gotta agree with the guys above, this is a bad comparison. Ichiro, for all his greatness, was one of the most selfish guys to ever wear the Mariners uniform. He did things his way, regardless of situation and after awhile, it became apparent he simply did not care anymore.

    Wilson is not going to give up on the Seahawks the way Ichiro did to the Mariners.

  9. Derrick says:

    Kip, you should have stopped while you looked like a prophet! Jason (above) hits the nail on the head in regard to Ichiro/Wilson comparison.

  10. jason says:

    I like you a lot KIP no hate just wish more people spoke out about it but where afraid of mariner ownership…Look in the mariners dugout tonight you will see Ichiro’s (interpretuer)misspelled sorry. Yeah we still have him paying him 11 years later while Ichiro is in NY..

    • You DO realize we have another Japanese player, don’t you? Hisashi Iwakuma might also require a translater to… you know… communicate more effectively with his team and coaching staff.

  11. jason says:

    Felix is the better comparison win or lose Felix will sit with the media even if he gets rocked and is the best teammate ever……

  12. AgentJ says:

    It’s sad to see how misguided people are about what Ichiro was here. One of the greatest players to ever put on a jersey in Seattle was practically run out of town by folks who didn’t like his demeanor. He made the game look so effortless that people think he wasn’t trying. And like Shaun Alexander, we belittle him for this perceived flaw. In other places, setting a record like that gets a player immortalized. In Seattle, it just sets the bar impossibly high for the next year.
    Don’t blame Ichiro for the Mariner’s failures since 2003. Blame the guys building the teams around him. Ichiro’s perceived faults weren’t a problem when the team was good. Only when Ichiro was the last one left to carry the load was he scrutinized.

    “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”. Guess he should have left at the end of his first contract, so he could go into the HOF as a Yankee or Red Sock or something.

    • Colin says:

      Ichiro will never be seen in the same light as Jay, Kenny or Edgar. Those guys could carry the load, Ichiro is glorified for his tremendous defense and line drives- but he was never truely an asset. A slap hitter with occassional pop.

      You mean to tell me that while ownership was cutting payroll and Ichiro was making $18 million/year, you were satisfied to watch him decline? I wasn’t. The smart thing would’ve been to trade him in 2008, but instead, they held onto him and essentially wasted more time and more money until trading him for next to nothing.

      I just cannot for the life of me see a Russell Wilson/Ichiro comparison. Russell Wilson will never quit on this team. Ever. Will he be a Seahawk for life? I don’t know.

      He’ll die standing before he lives on his knees.

      • AgentJ says:

        Ichiro wasn’t an asset? Having a runner on base 262 times a year wasn’t an asset? That is a ridiculous claim.
        Ownership wasn’t going to spend that money regardless of what happened with Ichiro. They had plenty of profit to sign a big name free agent this winter and didn’t. And while Ichiro hasn’t been the old version of himself, he has still been better than the vast majority of Mariners over the last five years. Not to mention he made the club a ton of money with the Japan connection that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. he likely more than paid for his contract. The Mariners’ coffers are going to be pulled tighter this year without that extra dough coming in.
        When exactly did Ichiro quit on the Mariners? He went about his business every single game, win or lose. Even after a decade without the playoffs, he still provided the team with over 200 hits as the best leadoff hitter in the game in 2010. If I were him, I’d have asked for a trade far earlier, or signed with someone else in 2008. The guy was loyal enough to stick it out this long, and I’ll have nothing but respect for him because of that.

      • Ichiro quit on his team?

  13. AlaskaHawk says:

    I enjoyed the article. Every ones a critic!
    Maybe you could compare him to another rookie QB next time.

    I drove through Denver right before Elways second season – and the sport shows were crucifying him. He had the quickest release I have ever seen. He would zip that ball to the receiver at full speed – even when they were only 15 feet away. Naturally there was a lot of dropped balls. The coach responded to criticism by saying that if the receivers couldn’t hang onto the ball that he would get new receivers.

    • Well, I figure if people don’t get it, that’s their loss. : )

      A lot of people thought I was nuts for thinking Wilson’s height wouldn’t matter, too.

      • Colin says:

        Let’s not count the chickens till they hatch… we haven’t even played a regular season game yet. I hope you are right and it doesn’t matter though!

  14. Stuart says:

    Kip was using the Ichiro that came over from Japan. He compared the rookie year of Ichiro to Wilsons assent. Those are the comparisons. We all know how it turned out with Ichiro over the years. Felix would have been a better example career wise but Kip wasnt using the career of Ichiro.

    I enjoyed the article for what it was. We are at a magical time in Seattle Seahawk history. Let’s not bash one of our own. The national media does enough of that already. Time will tell but I for one would put all my eggs in the Russell Wilson basket. Whether it is was my house or my career, I am all in for this special once in our lifetime players, Russell Wilson. Call me a happy passenger on the “Russ Bus”.

  15. dmason24 says:

    People who are stating that this is a bad comparison are missing the point. The main point of the comparison is that these are 2 players that were underestimated because they are different. Starting out in Japan, Ichiro was underestimated and he proved people wrong. Then people had doubts whether Ichiro could succeed in MLB with his style similar to how people doubt Russell’s chances because of his height.

    The last time I was this excited for a local player was when the Sonics drafted Durant. Alas, he’s a future HOF doing his thing for OKC. I remember dreaming of what could be with a potential superstar in Durant. Even though Russell is in a different situation being a 3rd rounder with little hype coming in, he’s catapulted himself to the point where all of us are dreaming big; dreaming of where he can take this team and what kind of career he can have. These are truly exciting times.

    • Thank you. My faith in humanity has been restored. : )

    • Stephan says:

      WHY DID YOU BRING UP DURANT?! Oh how high this city would be if only..AH GOD DAMN YOU CLAY BENNETT AND HOWARD SCHULTZ

      • dmason24 says:

        Man, I feel the same way… I cannot begin to describe the bitterness that seethes inside me when I watch the Thunder put out this amazing team lead by Durant, built from the ground up and watch Clay, Aubrey, and the slimy Okie owners enjoying what should be ours. That’s why I’m hoping this Seahawks team built by Schneider/Carrell can replace some of that disappointment. Hopefully we will be calling this Russell’s team soon.

        BTW, Kip, I found this pretty fun and I’m a Christian: “I think he loves Jesus too much for the profanity laced pep talks though.”

    • Great article, even if people disagree with the semantics, the overall vision and comparison is valid and entertaining.

  16. James says:

    Russell Wilson is not the only QB dropped to the 3rd round by the lords of conventional wisdom. Add Joe Montana, Dan Fouts and Fran Tarkenton to the round three all-oversight team as well. And Ichiro would have been a round three guy if there ever was one.

  17. I actually posted this article at Seahawks.net the same time that I posted it here. Kind of funny how completely different the comments and reactions were.

    http://www.seahawks.net/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=48746

  18. A. Simmons says:

    I’m hoping this guy becomes our version of Joe Montana. That won’t be the case until some future team’s fan is hoping some young QB becomes their version of Russell Wilson.

    I never watched the Mariners with Ichiro. Once they decided not to keep Randy Johnson, I knew the Mariners were going down the same path as the Sonics with Jim McIlvaine. If the management is stupid enough to not break the bank for a pitcher like Randy Johnson, they’ll never be smart enough to build a consistent winning team. Glad we have King Felix. But I won’t be surprised if he is traded as some fools were talking about doing before they put a team around him.

    At least I feel very confident Pete and John will put a great team around Russell Wilson. I expect them to work extra hard to upgrade the wide receivers next year. We’ll get by this year. But next year is when I think they start to build the wide receiver corps in earnest now that the QB is settled barring injury.

    I hope we get more draft pick write ups as the season progresses. See how they do during the regular NFL season.

  19. Greg on Vancouver Island says:

    Great comparison. The calmness, hard work, attention to detail, individuality, superior skill. Of course, there are other areas where the two are not similar.

    Two points: one, we shouldn’t let our justifiable enthusiasm get the better of us. I expect Russell to succeed big-time, but he will certainly have his failures from time to time. I’m ready for the ride, and wil try not to lose confidence.

    Second, Ichiro was a great player for this franchise. Don’t forget that just because he lost enthusiasm in later years and ended up being a downer for the guys around him.

  20. RJ says:

    Kip isn’t saying that Wilson is Ichiro. All he’s saying is that certain aspects of Ichiro’s time in Seattle compare to what he sees happening to Wilson’s career.

  21. LouieLouie says:

    Great article, Kip. I do get your comparison to Ichiro. In the case of Wilson, it was not difficult to see that he had “it.” Even after his second game with the back-ups and wanna-bees, you could see that he was a player who could impose his will on the field of play (tilting the field). I also liked your quick comparison to Favre.

    Baring injury or other things that could happen, I think that RW will be the face of the franchise for a long time. I also predict that Seattle will get its first SB championship (maybe even more than one) during that time.

  22. Steen says:

    You realize you just compared him to a HOF player, right? Until you take a step back and acquire some shred of objectiveness on this matter your opinion is virtually worthless.

    • It’s ironic to see one of the most subjective commenters I’ve ever seen complain about someone else not being objective. Once again, you’ve made a comment that is completely worthless and only antagonistic. Pure, acerbic, unadulterated criticism is useless. The only result you’ll ever achieve with comments like this is looking like a complete a-hole. If you’re going to criticize someone, at least put some effort into it, and offer something constructive. If you can’t motivate yourself to do that, these types of comments are worthless, and the Seattle blogosphere would be better off without you.

      Re the OP, very well-written, Kip. Thorough and well-supported. Seems like a lot of people are completely missing the point, reading with no nuance whatsoever, and focusing on the difference in their personalities. Your goal wasn’t to compare their personalities. RW and Ichiro! have one huge thing in common: they both have unique skillsets and perceived disadvantages, and they don’t mesh with the status quo. Ichiro leveraged it into a HoF career. Hopefully RW can do the same.

    • peter says:

      sheesh. This guy. What’s the effort worth to bad mouth people or be vitriolic and hyperbolic against the writing?

      opinions and bias need no counterpoint of objectivity to support their claims.

      Here, here Kip, your article above about your “opinion,” on who Russell Wilson most reminds “you,” of was spot on. And fairly clever given that making Baseball analogous to Football, I find to be a bit tough at times.

      And again I for one am looking forward to a long season of insightful, aware commentary from Kiper and Mcshay (sometimes…) to goofy Walter Cherpinsky(less so), to mocking the draft(for the sheer volume), to Tony pauline and others, but most importantly Rob Staton and Kip Earlywine….that at the end of the day is all just conjecture and opinion. Football is not science, and writing about football is not hard journalism where objectivity is the penultimate goal after truth, it’s just fun, opinion based writing about how people see things. Keep it up gentlemen, and Rob I’m looking forward to the barrage of mock drafts, and player write-ups as soon as the games start.

  23. jason says:

    Kip if you think Hargrove wasnt forced out by Ichiro you should not write about Seattle sports…

    LOL so Mune gets a translator but did edgar or felix hmmmmmmmm

    If the beat reporters new they wouldnt be fired for outing all the BS he did he would be hated

    I love how Seattle fans bash Griffey who played hard every game for 10 years

    Go watch Ichiro in NY playing RF LF hitting 9th but here wouldnt budge on shit

    Your the typical Seattle fan who run guys like Beltre who was GG 3rd base .270 20hrs 90 rbi’s every year here never bitching about the park or having no lineup protection.

    Show me 1 after game chat where Ichiro took the mic after a bad team loss, how soon we forget Griffey only did interviews after bad games…

  24. Jeremy says:

    What’s with all the hate? This was a great read. Thank you Kip for making my lunch break much more enjoyable.