In the avalanche of astounding statistics, unprecedented successes and months of MVP-quality play, it’s a little hard to remember when the questions were being asked about Russell Wilson’s value.
Heck, he looks like a bargain now, having earned his $21.9 million annual average salary in just the second half of the season when he lifted the sluggish Seahawks to a level of play that suggests they can threaten another Super Bowl run.
And that’s even though the path would follow a difficult road.
But it wasn’t that long ago Wilson was struggling with his passer rating in the low 90s and the Seahawks looking like remote longshots to even sniff the postseason.
Back then, so many of us wondered if he’d been changed by the big checks, or by his photogenic girlfriend, Ciara, a singer and star of hip-hop videos and training camp sidelines. How could he not be changed by the lifestyle, including life in a mansion and the sight of his ubiquitous image on endorsements across every medium?
And how about the infamous Super Bowl interception against the Patriots? Certainly that at least tilted his halo a bit, right?
I know I wondered in print if his career trajectory had plateaued, since it seemed almost impossible for him to sustain the skyrocketing pace.
Plateau? Turns out he was just catching his breath.
In the second half of the season, mostly without the services of top running backs Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls, and tight end Jimmy Graham, and with an offensive line making slow steps toward functional efficiency, Wilson’s performance rose to ridiculous levels.
With the season mired in injuries and doubt, Wilson did what MVPs do. He lifted the team and carried it.
Granted, sometimes he missed receivers, sometimes he ran when he should have thrown the ball away. But he played with such an unrelenting and contagious force of will.
He took beating after beating, always dusting off and hustling back to the huddle, never acknowledging the pain. Most of the big hits he dodged, as is his knack.
He used that water-bug quickness so often to elude the beefy rushers, who grew so obviously vexed by the futility. Just when they are ready to clutch him in their trash-compactor arms, he dematerialized before their eyes and popped up elsewhere as if by teleportation.
All quarterbacks have microphones in their helmets, but Wilson must have one of those backing-up cameras, too, to see what’s behind him, or maybe some kind of radar for collision warnings.
It has caused coach Pete Carroll to suspect that Wilson is part ninja. Maybe that’s part of his mystery training regimen.
The more likely truth is that he just keeps mastering the art of quarterbacking, which allows him to better exploit his natural gifts and improvisational skills.
In those final eight games, he threw 25 touchdown passes against just two interceptions. It helped him finish the season with the league’s highest passer rating, 110.1, and with team records for passing yards (4,024) and passing touchdowns (34).
According to reports, he became the only quarterback in NFL history to pass for 4,000 yards and more than 30 touchdowns plus rush for more than 500 yards in a single season.
History is a long time.
And Wilson is a part of it.
Does it all just keep going? The playoffs are ahead, the real playground for the elite athletes. Can Wilson take the Seahawks to a third-straight Super Bowl? That would be another step on history’s steep ladder.
Is it possible, with a solidified offensive line in front of him and a healthy first-rate running back behind him, that he could double those second half numbers next season in a 16-game assault?
That could add up to a 50-touchdown, four-interception season that would cause watchers to start comparing Hall of Fame numbers.
That’s down the road, but fun conjecture for the future.
For now, fans can look back at the way all the questions of the early part of the season were answered.
Bottom line, Russell Wilson was paid like a league MVP, and he ended up playing like one.