To every other Seahawk, going to University of Phoenix Stadium today for the first time this week was simply to take a team picture for Super Bowl 49.
But Russell Wilson was likely scouting out a key detail that might become Seattle's biggest weapon tomorrow against the New England Patriots.
In every stadium he’s ever played in, Wilson finds a place. That place could be a flag staff, a railing, a top of a section. It might be a tunnel in a seating bowl. Sunday, it might be the
windows beyond one end zone of Arizona's home field.
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The quarterback goes to the place throughout games – amid the chaos of the fans’ roars and the in-stadium music blaring and defenders trying to rearrange his face mask – to stay, as he puts it, “grounded” and reassured.
The fact he and his Seahawks play here once each regular season in NFC West games against the Cardinals means Wilson probably already has his spot picked out. He has the same spot for each of his home games at CenturyLink Field back in Seattle.
Not that anyone else knows where any of these places are.
“I’m not going to tell you where it is,” he said.
“I think it gives you a little bit of an advantage because I’m big on visualization. I believe in that and seeing the stadium, and knowing where the shot clock is, knowing the grass is like and knowing all those things,” Wilson said entering the next biggest game in his three-year career full of victorious ones.
“I think it gives you a little bit of an advantage for me personally because I use it mentally throughout the week.”
The picking a spot in the stadium is yet another of the intangibles that, to the Seahawks, separate Wilson from any other quarterback in the league.
And, yes, that includes the New England institution he is opposing in this Super Bowl, Tom Brady.
Brady is playing in his sixth Super Bowl, seeking his fourth win. He has all the gaudy passing yardage and completions in a wide-open and often hurry-up offense. He has a supermodel wife with Better Homes and Gardens kids.
Wilson? No starting quarterback threw less over the full regular season than he did, as he spent much of his time either handing off to Marshawn Lynch – 1,522 yards rushing and an NFL-leading 18 total touchdowns – or taking off for his 849 yards rushing on improvisational scrambles and read-option runs.
Down 19-7 with 5 minutes left against the Packers following his stunning, fourth interception of the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago, Wilson marched up and down the Seahawks’ sideline declaring his belief they still were going to win.
And they did. Wilson’s two best throws of his uncharacteristically poor day came on Seattle’s final two plays, a 35-yarder plopped perfectly to Doug Baldwin and a 35-yard arch to Jermaine Kearse on an audible out of a run against a no-safeties coverage Wilson had been waiting all day to use.
It’s 42 regular season and playoff wins and counting for Wilson, the most in NFL history by a quarterback in the first three seasons of his career. Sunday he will become the first passer to start a Super Bowl twice in his first three seasons.
The leadership, the visualization, the improvisation – and most of all, the winning – that’s why Seattle wouldn’t trade its guy for Brady or all the beans in Boston.
“We want him to be Russell Wilson. We want him to be his unique self,” Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “We believe in him. We trust in him to make smart decisions, because that’s really what it comes down to.”
The rest of the numbers and the attention don’t drive Wilson.
“The only thing I care about is winning,” Wilson said. “A lot of people talk about who’s the best quarterback and all that kind of stuff. I really don’t pay attention to it. I just try to do my job and I try to do my job better than anybody else and I try to do my job better than the other guy on the other side of the field.”
Does that focus change for the biggest game in sports?
Wilson says no, that he intends on Sunday to “be locked in and just have a ball.” That’s after what he estimated were about 100 requests for tickets for the game, only about 15 of which he could fulfill.
“You can’t please everybody,” he said.
The Seahawks are about to try and make Wilson very pleased with a new contract offer.
Wilson has earned $662,000 this season on his rookie contract as a third-round pick in 2012. Next year is his final season on that deal, currently scheduled to pay him $799,000.
It’s the biggest bargain in sports. And the day after this Super Bowl, Seahawks coach John Schneider can begin negotiating with agent Mark Rodgers on a new deal that many feel could average $20 million per year and exceed $100 million.
Not that Wilson is dialed in on any of that right now. He’ll be spending his Sunday focused on a spot in a stadium to stay grounded enough to make Super Bowl history.
“Just go out there and just love the game for what it is; we’re playing in the Super Bowl. Super Bowl 49,” Wilson said.
“There’s only so many people and so many times that you get to play in the Super Bowl, and you don’t take that for granted. I personally think about, I’m one of 32. I’m one of 32 guys in the National Football League that get to play the great position of quarterback. Two of 32 to play in this game.
“To play against or with a guy like Tom Brady is a tremendous honor. He’s a great football player and I think about that. That excites me. I think that’s something you don’t take for granted and puts a smile on your face when you wake up in the morning.”