It seemed like more than just his hard-wired optimism this week when Russell Wilson spoke in anticipation of playing on an ankle that had been stomped on by a pachyderm.
Maybe it’s because the limitations of a sprained ankle raises the stakes — gives him another way to test himself.
His coach, Pete Carroll, noticed it.
“As always, he’s excited to prove he can (get back) … he’s half-crazy about proving it,” he said, later adding “… I think really great performers find a way … that’s part of what’s going on (with Russell).”
The essence of Carroll’s insight was that the great quarterbacks prove themselves in times of extraordinary circumstances.
Wilson has proved many things in his first 75 NFL games. He’s winning at an unprecedented rate, has passed with an efficiency that led the league last season and has lifted the Seahawks to wins in the clutch time and again.
And, granted, he’s been banged up a little along the way. Imagine the cumulative toll of 198 sacks and 466 rushing attempts against teams that have designed their defenses expressly to pulverize him.
Yet he’s remained in showroom condition and never before had to lead the team to a win while visibly hobbled, as he did in the final minutes against Miami in the opener.
Since then, he’s surprised the medicos by getting out of the protective boot and into practice as early as Wednesday.
He’s credited heavy icing with keeping the swelling down. But, no, the separation is not just in the refrigeration. There are always mental components to Wilson’s preparedness for game time.
He reminds himself the dimensions of the football field: It’s how he convinces himself that nothing is different once he’s on that acreage, and nothing outside that perimeter really matters in The Moment.
And he always focuses on a specific spot in every stadium before every game, as a visual talisman that somehow grounds him. He won’t say where or why, but I’m guessing maybe it’s a place his late father used to sit when he watched his games.
He takes himself to a tranquil place. He unleashed the term “limpid” this week, a word used in literature mostly to describe calm waters and unclouded skies. And that’s mostly what he’s dealt with in his NFL career.
Blessed with elusiveness and durability, he’s seemed so polished and imperturbable, almost programmed. And he hasn’t really had the chance to show the mettle beneath the veneer, what he has down deep.
Now’s his chance.
“I love watching Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger — the toughness that they show,” Wilson said.
Against the Rams in Los Angeles, and the carnivorous defensive front that has sacked him more than any other team in the league, Wilson will have to prove that he now has a quarterbacking tool box extensive enough that he can lead an offense without his trademark mobility.
Football against the Rams can turn into a bare-knuckled barfight that exposes the weak and timid. If he’s a potted palm in the pocket, Wilson may end up getting dirty and bloody.
And that will be okay. It will look good on him.
Look at who he’s become, at least from an external perspective. He’s had the royal wedding to the fairy-tale princess, and the $87 million contract. How many teammates, really, can relate to that? Who wouldn’t be set apart by that lifestyle?
Gutting out a tough win against the Rams would reinforce Wilson as one of those foxhole teammates. Another Seahawk bound by common purpose in the face of any obstacle.
Wilson tipped us off how much that kind of performance would mean to him when he mentioned Brady and Roethlisberger. But it goes beyond them, and Wilson likely knows it.
He’s an historian of the game. He’s probably heard the legends, like how Johnny Unitas had his nose turned into bloody pulp but rose and fired a touchdown strike on the next play.
And how Brett Favre sustained his consecutive-start streak one time by playing on an ankle so bad that he had to wear one shoe two sizes larger than the other to accommodate the swelling.
As Carroll pointed out, it’s a part of finding a way to win, and is the province of the really great ones.
It’s another step that Wilson is striving to take against the Rams. Even if he limps in the process.